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“House of Leaves” is an obsessive self-parody

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

Photo by Malcolm Streitfeld

Out of all the books I’ve read so far over the years, this one was the biggest challenge. Mark Z. Danielewski’s gargantuan tome of a novel clocks in at 709 pages, each one containing complex jargon, references and terminology commonly found in science, the visual arts and literature. Now I heard a lot about this story from Reddit before finally picking it up and reading it, so I knew it wouldn’t be easy to tackle.


Some said it was a horror story. Others said it was a love story.


I however have a different take. I think that bizarrely enough, the story and by extension the writer is subjecting himself to a comedy roast.


Before I get to that though, here’s as much of the plot as I’m willing to reveal without breaking my no-spoiler rule. The separate narratives of a photojournalist named Will, his friend Karen, a tattoo shop apprentice named Johnny and a mysterious figure known only as Zampano are linked by two commonalities: A book that drives its readers insane and a house with a labyrinthian interior.


Okay so with that established, I don’t think there’s really any point or deeper meaning to the lengthy, overly convoluted and complicated paragraphs upon paragraphs of text and countless citations that make up the entirety of the book to the point that it can get exhausting to read if you choose to sprint through it. I didn’t and I’m a fast reader. Take it more as a marathon.


All of the text being pointless is the entire point. “House of Leaves” is a story that jabs at the dry drabness that one sometimes experiences when they are forced to slog through an uninteresting piece of academic literature. That feeling you get when you want to stop and go read something vastly more interesting. Danielewski is laughing at the tediousness of it all.


Despite this, the book is 709 pages of knowledge you’d likely not already know unless you were an avid and experienced scholar who has studied for years and read countless other books. This is why I think the book is, at its core, a self-parody. The entire work is an insane experiment where Danielewski is mocking the very book he wrote, as he’s writing it.


“House of Leaves” targets anyone who chooses to write stuff that some might consider complicated and overdetailed, including other authors like Thomas Pynchon, people working in academia today and even funnily enough, Danielewski himself.


Some have seen “House of Leaves” as a novel that fits within the Lovecraftian horror genre, and fair enough, that’s their opinion to hold. To me however, “House of Leaves” is railing against the hopelessness and misery of Lovecraftian horror. It suggests that our existences on this planet are only devoid of purpose and meaning if we drive ourselves crazy obsessing over the things we’ll truly never be able to understand. We have the free will to let go of that madness inducing book or house filled with endless corridors and go enjoy the simplicity of our everyday lives.


I heartily recommend “House of Leaves” to anyone looking for a book where there’s always more to discover. It certainly won’t waste your time.


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