“For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realize it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how.”
When I was in high school, my best friend and I had a saying for when anything weird would happen. “Child, that was a motherfucking trip.” What can I say? We were classy people. Well, House of Leaves is not only a motherfucking trip. House of Leaves is a flat-out hot box of crazy.
How do I even begin to explain this book? It started as an underground cult favorite, a jumbled mess of papers musicians, tattoo artists and (in my case) physicists would pass around to their friends. “Dude, did you ever read this book?”
I should warn you now: reading this book is tough. It uses a…let’s call it “unconventional” narrative structure. Sometimes words are randomly different colors. Some pages only have half a dozen words on them. Narrators switch back and forth with no warning.
“House of Leaves” starts with the narrator Johnny Truant, a tattoo artist in Los Angeles who finds a manuscript his dead neighbor wrote. The book is an academic study of a documentary film called the Navidson record. A photojournalist named Will Navidson, his partner Karen and their two children moved into a new home in Virginia and Will decided to film it. It starts out normally enough as the family adapts to their new lives. But when they come home from a weekend trip they discover a door and a closet where there was once only a blank wall. Soon after Will realizes that somehow the internal measurements of the house are a little bit larger than the external measurements.
The house somehow keeps growing internally, eventually forming a “Five-Minute Hallway” and cavernous halls. The men who are exploring it, including Will and his brother Tom start to buckle under the strain of their situation, leading some of them to insanity and murder.
Meanwhile, Johnny Truant begins to feel uneasy after reading the manuscript. He’s obsessed with the story and starts suffering from delusions and paranoia, convinced that something is after him. He’s also the definition of an unreliable narrator, telling the readers a long story of his salvation and serenity before coming clean: “I just made that up. Right out of thin air.”
I’m not sure about recommending this book to others. It’s a long book, confusing and sometimes frustrating as hell. It absolutely requires you to read it multiple times. But it’s also exciting to take an active part in reading this book, trying to decipher the codes, to make sense of the plot and to read something that is truly unique.