House of Leaves is a bit of a contradiction. It’s a highly experimentally formatted highly conservative and straightforward story. The ostensible nature of the book is that it’s an account of a film about a house in which the laws of physics are arbitrary, written by an eccentric named Zampanò. It features a dual narrative of footnotes by a person who is interested in Zampanò named Johnny Truant, who feels the effects of the story sometimes in profound ways.
Getting down to the technicalities, the book is almost predictably inconsistent. There are parts of both Johnny Truant’s story and “The Navidson Record”, Zampanò’s account of events surrounding photojournalist Will Navidson, that are extremely bad. At times “The Navidson Record” lapses into telegraphing its plays with contrived, unreal dialogue such as when Navidson and his girlfriend, Karen, take time-outs to speak into their cameras about how they feel about each other or when people exclaim in the five and a half minute hallway, which is the scary part of the house. For a book that’s meant to be scary, I don’t think I’ve ever felt less fear.
Johnny Truant’s story has little to do with “The Navidson Record” and when he gets “poetic” things get downright sticky. I read the quotes in the back of the book and the adjective “postmodernist” was used. If you’re looking for good postmodern literature check out Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman. All this being said, what’s good about the book?
Well, I’m going to give some massive points for the experimental layouts of the pages. They are genuinely fun regardless of how obvious they may be. On top of that, the amount of information from both fake and real sources presents a veritable playground with voices that run in agreement, concurrence, contrary, contradictory, and outright non-sequiturially to each other. The notes, the descriptions of the house, and the lay-outs are where the book really shines. Some of the lists end up getting a little too long and pointless, but all of the complaints I’ve had are thankfully only small components of the book.
Ultimately the flaws are too numerous for the book to be considered a flawed masterpiece or perhaps even a great work but it is certainly worth the read if you’re looking for the right things.