November 30, 2008

Final analysis


House of Leaves is good. Really good. But enjoying it requires one of two things:
A) Ignore/skim a lot of the semi-relevant information and read only the two main storylines (if you pick this up, you’ll know what I’m talking about right away)
or
B)Prepare to spend 2 weeks obsessing over every detail (read the Wikipedia page if you want to find out more about this – but be aware that it has a comprehensive plot summary with spoilers).

I can tell you right now that I went with A. And I enjoyed this book a lot. This is like David Foster Wallace combined with Stephen King, or the kind of book I imagine Stephen King would write if he’d spent too much time reading Sartre instead of too much time watching westerns as a kid. And that’s a compliment, I think.

The story is your basic haunted house tale (interwoven with the story of Johnny Truant, the fellow who finds the manuscript and decides that editing it is his life’s work) combined with a love story involving a professional photographer and his wife. There’s also a lot of related material (mostly in the form of footnotes) relating to a short film created by the photographer about the experience. Various real and imagined literati provide their opinions on the fictional film and the characters – some of this stuff is really interesting, and some is dreadfully boring (and hence I skipped it). No ghosts, no possessed pets – it’s an existential kind of horror story.

Apparently the Poe album “Haunted” was created as a companion piece for the novel (Mark Danielewski is Poe’s brother). I’m not familiar with the music, but I’m actually interested to hear it now that I’ve read the book.

Bottom line: this is an extremely intimidating book in many ways, but it’s surprisingly user-friendly if you can get past the initial hurdles of the layout, the extremely complicated narrative, and the large amounts of very tangential (bordering on irrelevant) material scattered throughout. I spent about 50 pages hating the book, and then the remaining 350 or so (many of these pages contain only a few words, so it’s not as long as it sounds) really enjoying it. If you’ve got some free time to read this winter, check it out.