Within the black and white world of traditional fiction texts, color is notably absent.
In Mark Z. Danielewski’s both mystifying and horrifying experimental fiction novel “House of Leaves”, color is only another part of an intricate puzzle spanning over 300 pages. Within the wildly formatted and sometimes intensely experimental pages of “House of Leaves”, a reader may become both lost and amazed at the surreal world painted within a book about a house.
Yet the house that concerns “House of Leaves” so much is not simply a house. The house in question contains a terrible and wondrous secret within its euclidean geometry: it is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Faced with this slowly discovered fact, the fictional Navidson family is faced with the unknown of impossible hallways and disturbing noises from beyond the threshold of their normal space. Faced with the unknown, Danielewski’s characters enterprise and interprete as they explore the untouched spaces of a strange land mirrored by their own emotions and psyche.
The plot in “House of Leaves” is only secondary to Danielewski’s treatment of the novel’s secondary story: an old man, who has been compiling a history of the house before being murdered under mysterious circumstances, sets the stage for the contemporary tale. The man left to pick up the pieces of the elder man’s work is a young tattoo artist named Johnny Truant, a man who has no idea what he is about to get himself into. The house that Johnny happens upon in textual form soon takes up residence in his mind, and whether it is his irrational fear or something else, Johnny begins to feel stalked and hunted by an overwhelming enemy.
The text itself is obviously not like other novels. Danielewski delights in the use of special colors and strange formatting that heightens the emotions and feelings of the characters on the pages. Prefacing each chapter is a small quote that touches on some aspect of houses and large buildings. Echoes, structural details, houses in antiquity, all are brought within the framwork of the narration as we come to feel a part of the unfolding story as much a spectator to it.
The appendix in “House of Leaves” is unto a small novel itself, containing quotes and allegories from famous works and famous people that construct an otherworldly fantasy that drives the narrative forward. Frequently, the pace will change without warning, bringing the action to a frenzied peak as a single word is printed on every page, centered and bolded, for the reader to hastily flip past.
Yet the true charm in “House of Leaves” lies in the literary skill of Danielewski. The puzzling mystery that is woven, teased, and built upon with every event traces a psychological and philosophical journey through the minds of all the characters. One could interpete the novel in a myriad of ways- reading it is as much a journey as it would be to experience it.
Danielewski proves a wicked storyteller, though there may be points in the narrative where confusion can take over lucidity, as is to be expected when the story gets as complicated as it does. Still, like in his other darkly humorous and ingenious novel “The Fifty Year Sword”, Danielewski’s “House of Leaves” is a well-crafted piece of fiction that is sure to delight and interest many readers. Sure, this story may simply concern a house- but few know how big a house can truly be.