House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski

Have you ever known terror? You are about to find it, and in the most unexpected place.

Upon searching through the apartment of the recently deceased Zampanò, Jonny Truant discovers a series of notes and ramblings that all refer to a film known only as The Navidson Record. It documents a family’s move into a house on Ash Tree Lane “where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside” (Goodreads).

Doesn’t sound particularly terrifying? Wrong, House of Leaves is unsettling in every conceivable way – the narrative is gripping, the footnotes eerie, and ‘nothingness’ takes on a whole new meaning. Allow me to elaborate – suspense within the horror genre generally comes from allowing our imagination to run wild, the “enemy” lies in the shadows just out of sight, but ultimately by the end it becomes tangible. In other words, you can put your finger on what exactly the “monster” is, what it looks like, and what its purpose is so to speak. Then you can simply forget it, it no longer has the power to terrify. Danielweski does not do this. Instead Danielewski plays with “absence” and sensory deprivation – what is scarier, always thinking there is something behind the door but finding nothing, or something actually being behind the door just once? In essence the book presents the most terrifying game of hide and seek – think a post-modern Minotaur.

Now, this book review would not be complete without mentioning how House of Leaves is written, and by this I don’t mean well or badly. To say that it is stylistically unusual would be an understatement, it’s post-modernist dream in which there are pages left blank, some contain just a couple of words, others are printed backwards or upside down – do not let this put you off, it is one of the most rewarding reads you will ever come across!

I will end by simply saying that Danielewski’s debut novel is a fascinating psychological horror, but the phrase “you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors” will almost definitely take on a whole new meaning.

NB: Here is the musical accompaniment to the book that was written by Danielewski’s sister, Poe.

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