House of Leaves (Mark Z. Danielewski)

20120602-153933.jpg This novel is really…unusual. And creepy. Did I mention it’s kinda weird? But that’s part of its charm. It’s a real unusual read that initially started out as an online project, but unlike some other web-to-book works it actually makes sense as a “novel.”

Danielewski’s brand of experimental fiction is surprisingly user-friendly, even though at first glance it looks intimidating and, quite frankly, nearly impossible. Every time a passage leads you to the next page (and the next, and the next, and still the next), there’s another passage at the end that turns you around and takes you back to the place you started on. In other words, despite the words that grow, shrink, change directions, and seem to require a mirror to read them, House of Leaves kind of holds your hand so you never get lost (unlike the characters you’re reading about).

Which brings me to the creepy part: the story itself. It’s oddly compelling, and even though the concept is dark enough (a house that suddenly “grows” a new room, which turns into an endless maze of freezing-cold corridors stalked by a mysterious growling something), the characters are interesting and complex enough to keep the pages turning. Of course, large patches of interesting textual configurations and even some pages that are almost entirely blank except for a single word or sentence don’t hurt, either.

The only thing I didn’t really take to in this novel was the Johnny Truant character who the frame narrative focuses on. Initially I found him interesting, but after a while I found his chapters to be lengthy and rambling, and  by the end, I kind of found him annoying. However, I see the purpose his narrative provides for the story about the house (btw, the word “house” appears in blue throughout the novel, and after a while, this never-explained blueness is actually erie and chilling all on its own), and there are some interesting moments in the Truant story.

If you’re looking for a chilling and fascinating read, and one that plays with the material reality of print technology, this book is definitely for you.

GOOD FOR:  people who like thrillers, fans of experimental fiction, and lovers of Postmodernism.

BAD FOR:  those who dislike suspense, readers who prefer a linear storyline, and anyone who doesn’t want to rotate their book in order to read the text.

GOOD WITH:  The People of Paper, anything sinister, and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

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