[Review] House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Wednesday, July 09, 2014 K.Z. Freeman 1 Comments

It is indeed a joyful thing that books of highly experimental nature still exist and remain amply read. They can, however, become singularly infuriating when one tries to read the damn things.

This is one of those books, and it pissed me off immensely.

First off, I don't see how I can review this tome without reviewing the two parts (more or less) of which it consists, since each part acts as a POV shift (of sorts) within chapters. The voice used for each is completely different.

The first part, which I call the good part, is written by a fictitious dead man, Zampano (although the author tries really hard to make the reader fall into the trap of thinking this whole thing is for real) and his accounting of The Navidson Record. Thus, the Zampano part is more like an in-depth accounting. This is the part that is really good. Fascinating even.  It manages to convey things in a totally and completely engrossing way and has a somewhat Lovecraftian vibe. But that vibe is only an inkling, an itch.

The Zampano part decides early on to pry on the most basic fear of the unknown and maintain it by piling the equation of unknowns, heaping one atop the other until you get x+x×x(x+x-x)=x/x. Or something similar. Lots of X's, in any case.

Actually, these parts are so good and perfectly written, the pacing so incredibly adequate, that I could just as easily heap paragraphs upon paragraphs explaining why these sections make Mark Z. Danielewski a boss.

But then we come to the other part of the book, namely the travesty that is the character of Johnny Truant and his mostly idiotic babble.

What makes these sections even worse, is the fact that the Johnny Truant narrative is found between sections that are totally great.
Props to the writer for managing to maintain a stream-of-consciousness type stile. But also Fuck Him, because my appreciation for the author's skill does absolutely nothing to alleviate the mostly pretentious and inevitably (but not always) boring as heck nature of the Johnny Truant narrative.
It successfully accomplishes what writers should avoid. It cuts through the story in such a fashion that makes you skim paragraphs instead of wanting to devour them. What ends up happening is that you read these paragraphs in a kind of fury, a hunger to get back to the good part of the book these spaces threaten and, in most cases, successfully ruin.
They would have worked extremely well (and they sometimes do (mostly at the end)), if they were shorter and managed to build up on the main story in some meaningful way. They don't. Instead Johnny almost always ends up talking about some girl he banged didn't bang, or just met or has an obsession about. Or he simply lies.

The Idiot Johnny parts are basically footnotes. And they sometimes become pretentious as FUUUUUCK. Footnotes that span a few pages and mostly manage to tell nothing at all interesting or entertaining  (or for that matter vital to the story) and  babble on endlessly about the same crap. Half a page without a single period is not unheard of, while managing to give off a sense that you might learn something "important" if you just keep on reading. But...

Let me give you an example.

There is a section where Zampano writes down something in German, to which Johnny Fucking Truant writes a 3 page footnote. 
In this particular section he scribbles down how his friend, the-never-pussyless-one, Lude, introduces him to a woman that knows German. Johnny Truant then proceeds to describe how he flirts with her and gets man-handled by her boyfriend. Then, skip 5 months or something, he gets to meet up with her again. This time he is a hour late to the party because he was scared shitless [as usual]. He then ventures with said lady in her car where they proceed to take ecstasy. She speeds the said car, being some kind of adrenaline junkie or some other nonsense, until they eventually fornicate in the car, or Johnny just licks her or whatever, I can't even remember because it's so damn irrelevant. Then she cries because her boyfriend who had previously smacked Johnny doesn't pay attention to her and doesn't even want to touch her. Johnny then promptly decides to remind us that, lo and behold, he forgot to ask her what the German phrase (for which he had made this rambling footnote in the first place) even means...

Well fuck you, sir.

Mind you, these can be very well written, I cannot deny that, but it's still very well written irrelevancy. It does sort of all makes sense in the end, however, but can still be a pain to read. And despite the fact that it all comes "together in the end" (albeit in a very disjointed and rambling way), it still remains irrelevant to the main story.

This goes on. It's is not an isolated case and you soon lose interest in reading these "footnotes" in their entirety, despite the fact that they can be interesting but ultimately, 60+% of the time, utterly pointless.

It's not all bad though. It's not bad because they do manage to convey something else, a simple essence of writing.
You want to write? Here is you and here is the page. You are one. Try it. Look at it. Examine it and listen to it. Sing to it if you must. Smell it. Gut it. Gut yourself and smear those guts all over it. Now read your soul from the viscera and blood and make sense of it before you die.

While this may result in some killer writing, sections of the book sometimes end up reading like some pointless blog and/or male wish-fulfilment.

Johnny basically manages to fuck everything because, well I don't know why, I guess he looks good or something... Which would be fine if it weren't so boring to read and mostly pointless. He is apparently living in some kind of fantasy world where women randomly ask him to cum on their tits. The problem is, he really is not as fascinating as the author thinks he is. Johnny manages to grab your attention at first, because you think he will say something relevant. Then usually begins to drone on about some random crap that tries very hard not to be random. Or the randomness of it has some deeper meaning that I have missed completely.

Not to mention that somehow all the women in this book are freakishly good looking because hey, an old man living in an extremely smelly apartment is just a magnet for chicks. They were fascinated by Zampano. Of course they were, yes yes. Why wouldn't they be?
And then Johnny tracks down some of them in order to find out just what the hell is going on (even though that tracking almost always turns into a farce). And they are all hot.

Which really brings me to the issue of characters. None of them are really interesting. They are there, they are in the story, but it is the house, the tale that is interesting, not the characters. They may do interesting things to push the story forward, true, but they are in themselves not interesting characters. Reading about them outside the story, or unless they have something to say about the house in the strange "interviews", yields no satisfaction and you want those parts to be over quick and get back to the story sooner rather than later.

That may not sound fair at all, and in this case that's actually fine, since the story still manages some awesome moments with character interaction.

The important part, however, is well embedded in this book. The part that you will want to explore. You will be interested, you will be hooked, even if while reading the book you may end up hating it.

Zempano Part 11/10 (yes, an eleven)

Johnny Part 5/10


1 comment:

  1. Great review!! This book is such a pain in the ass to read! But I found the whole difficulty of reading it makes for a better understanding of what the characters are going through and definitely kept my interest.