For all its modernist maneuvers, postmodernist airs and post-postmodernist critical parodies, House of Leaves is, when you get down to it, an adventure story: a man starts traveling inside a house that keeps getting larger from within, even as its outside dimensions remain the same … Throughout, the typeface tells us where we are, even if it's not always clear which narrator or compiler we're being lectured by, or what his state of mind might be … We are reading a story about a story about a story about a film about a house with a black hole in it. The hole is the core of the experience … The message they bring home is a chilling one: Fear lives in the earth, and we meet it as it rises, night after night, in place after place.
House of Leaves [is] the first major experimental novel of the new millennium. And it's a monster...like David Foster Wallace channeling H.P. Lovecraft for a literary counterpart to The Blair Witch Project … Navidson's documentary concerns a strange house in rural Virginia into which he moves with his family. All is well at first, but small spatial displacements soon occur … The accounts of the exploration of this dark abyss are hair-raising, and the physical impossibility of it all only deepens the metaphysical dread felt by the characters … Danielewski's achievement lies in taking some staples of horror fiction – the haunted house, the mysterious manuscript that casts a spell on its hapless reader – and using his impressive erudition to recover the mythological and psychological origins of horror, and then enlisting the full array of avant-garde literary techniques to reinvigorate a genre long abandoned to hacks.
There is something very wrong. The Navidson Record becomes a vérité horror film as Will and his friends try to explore the anomalous space, which rearranges itself periodically with a roar, and expands into terrifying volumes of darkness … Danielewski...weaves around his brutally efficient and genuinely chilling story a delightful and often very funny satire of academic criticism. In one way, and after the manner of Moby-Dick, the novel is its own Leviathan commentary … House of Leaves...is a superbly inventive creation. It is not mere genre fiction, because the author so gleefully ignores the conventions of horror: no finally unmasked monster, no ghosts, no malign extraterrestrials. There is only the house.
As big as the Los Angeles Yellow Pages, it takes the form of a book-length essay by a mysterious blind man named Zampano, writing about a 1993 documentary film called The Navidson Record. In the late '80s, Will Navidson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, moved his family into an old Virginia farmhouse that proves to be five sixteenths of an inch longer inside than it is outside … There are two and sometimes three narratives going on at once. Concurrently, the book's text moves backward, upside down and diagonally, sometimes on the same page. There is even an index. Both daunting and brilliant, the novel is surprisingly fun to read, a sort of postmodern fun house where the reader becomes the author's partner in putting the story together.
Mr. Danielewski’s book, a first novel called House of Leaves, is a ragged cut-and-paste job, with scattered original bits … Some of the horror passages are genuinely frightening, but Mr. Danielewski’s artistic and intellectual pretensions get in the way (Nothing squashes suspense like a footnoted reference to Gaston Bachelard or Jacques Derrida) … The best part of the book is neither scholarly nor spooky–it’s a clever little postmodern frolic. Karen shows 13 minutes of footage from The Navidson Record to a bunch of people, most of them ‘real’ and well known, and asks for their comments … Some of the tricks that evoke and induce spatial disorientation work well. Others, like footnotes that strain to achieve three dimensions, are mildly amusing. But what can you say about the cute tic of always printing the word ‘house’ in blue?
Johnny’s experience reading Zampanò’s House of Leaves is actually a lot like the experience of reading Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Zampanò’s behemoth is clogged with the kind of preening pseudo-erudition that keeps many academic books from being read outside the academy … although I hesitate to excuse Danielewski’s deliberate obfuscations, it makes some thematic sense that one should have to work to get at the core of House of Leaves … Like last year’s film The Blair Witch Project, House of Leaves is at once worth trying to fathom and inexplicably overhyped, overstylized, and difficult. Danielewski’s bloated and bollixed first novel certainly attempts to pass itself off as an ambitious work; the question for each reader is if the payoff makes the effort of slogging through its endless posturing worthwhile.
An intricate, erudite and deeply frightening book. The story – one of them, anyway – follows photographer Navidson and his family as their house begins to shift around them … Then there are the book's ‘special effects,’ including pages-long footnotes, footnoted footnotes, pieces of text running diagonally across a page or in a small block in the middle. And the word ‘house’ appears in blue ink. If it sounds distracting or irritating, it's not. Mr. Danielewski's typographical mischief is all cleverly designed to intensify the creepy power of his engrossing novel.
Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related ‘documents’ and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb … Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture … The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.
Danielewski's eccentric and sometimes brilliant debut novel is really two novels, hooked together by the Nabokovian trick of running one narrative in footnotes to the other … One day, Will discovers that the interior of the house measures more than its exterior. More ominously, a closet appears, then a hallway. Out of this intellectual paradox, Danielewski constructs a viscerally frightening experience … Danielewski attempts an Infinite Jest-like feat of ventriloquism, but where Wallace is a master of voices, Danielewski is not. His strength is parodying a certain academic tone and harnessing that to pop culture tropes. Nevertheless, the novel is a surreal palimpsest of terror and erudition, surely destined for cult status.