House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski


“Little solace comes
to those who grieve
when thoughts keep drifting
as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours
seems a house of leaves

moments before the wind.”

By far one of the oddest books I’ve read, House of Leaves was full of stories wrapped within one another. It transformed from horror to thriller to romance to drama with astonishing speed- growing, diminishing and distorting itself. Its text was unusually placed- a fact that sometimes annoyed me, sometimes made me indignant about all that lost paper. But then, when pages upon pages of text at one point required me to spin the book in all directions, I realized how ingenious the book was at that point; by making me turn it all around, it made me unsure about which way was UP, to begin with. And that aligned perfectly with its purpose.

House of Leaves began by giving me two sleepless nights. As I delved into the initial pages, a growing horror began to fill me. This is the story of a couple who, along with their two children, move into a house that expands from the inside, told through the analysis of a film that does not seem to exist, written by a blind man who would not be able to watch it even if it did, edited by another man who is fighting strong demons inside his own head.

I spent most of the book contemplating the story of the Navidsons- the couple in the house. They begin by measuring a small anomaly, that seems fixable: the difference of one-fourth of an inch in the measurements of their house taken from the inside and the outside. But soon the house has expanded into corridors and hallways on the inside, followed by winding staircases, rooms and even more hallways and corridors. The catch is that these insides absorb everything that is fed into them. Devoid of light and completely unconquerable by any object, animate or inanimate.And permeated by the ever-present deep growl running through its length and breadth.

It is strange how frightening the absence of everything really can be. We long for peace and love and freedom from tumult but the alternative is so much more frightening. Having to live monotonously with the guarantee of tomorrow cannot be a tempting prospect. The horror of House of Leaves lies in that. The endlessness of the corridors in Navidson’s house is compounded by the absolute lack of an objective or any sort of…conclusion.There was nothing to attach identity to. Not the way we humans have a tendency to lend personality to everything we see around us. The closure we seek through life’s constant struggles proves our need to be delivered from anarchy, our need to find order in the chaos and ignore everything that does not point to a culmination.  And that was the reality of this book, the very fact that made me feel temporarily disoriented, caught up within layers of my own thoughts and squeezed until I was unsure of everything, including myself.

And yet, a comical element overtook my fear when men with ropes descended into the growing darkness of the house. It was then that my fear finally dissipated and I progressed with the book more naturally, judging its flaws and absorbing its essence.

After a while I began to see how House of Leaves was just another book, open to my interpretations. The alleged writers- whether it was the blind old man or the troubled young one were dicey. One was plagued by his need to sound academic and officious whilst he quoted sources that did not exist and documented items picked up randomly. The other was haunted by a childhood brutally seized and a heredity illness coursing through his veins. These authors through whose eyes we saw the Navidsons, were ill-equipped to lay bare the whole truth. And that added another layer of uncertainty to the story.

As the story progressed, however, the comical angles lost themselves in its folds once again. There was a perversity in this book that halted my progress. I was forced to give it up for a while. I was rooting for Navidson as he traversed endless hallways with his diminishing resources. Did he take the blank identity of the house into himself or did the house adopt his blackness to create hollow spaces? And when his flickering flame finally dies, having eaten up everything he had, I hoped that was the end. But he emerged and persisted, which perhaps, means something of hope for humanity. But it was finally towards the end that I saw how this book’s heart did lie in a love story, because above and beyond the standard plot was the story of how a woman’s love refused to let her draw away into safety and a man’s love brought him out of the folds of adventure, allowing him to embrace the monotony of life, even if it came at a prize.

But some of the nuggets of the story lie at the very end. If you break through the collection of poems (which are quite interesting, by the way), one of the appendices will leave you with a bunch of letters written from a slowly spiraling mother to her son, whom she longs to hold and love and be with. Yet her insanity drives her further away from him, she sees his beauty adrift in a world of horror. As she gasps for air, clutches at straws and tries to make sense of things that make no sense, she recalls her attempts to put an end to the life she once beget, just because the horrors of life seem too much for her to let him face. And once you turn those last pages, your heart is left with a sense of despondency. The essence of those letters are still echoing inside me

The horror of House of Leaves will only stay with you as long as you let it. This is the sort of horror that scares me the most: nameless and faceless, fighting void is the hardest thing to do because there is nothing solid for your hands to close against and squeeze.

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