Books & Dopamine

‘House of Leaves’ Haunts & Disorients You

cover of House of Leaves by Mark. Z Danielewski

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is unsettling and disturbing in a way that's hard to describe. There's a constant feeling of, "Something bad is going to happen but I don't know when," and then it happens so suddenly that it catches the reader unaware. You never really find your footing within the story. What has meaning and what doesn't? What's real and what's not? It's non-linear. It's a story within a story within a story. It keeps you off balance. It's chaotic. It's disorienting. It's a labyrinth. It's the Minotaur in the labyrinth stalking you.

A drawing of a person with long brown hair lying in bed with wide eyes. A copy of House of Leaves sits on the nightstand and a hand of dark gray smoke reaches from the book toward the person's head.

Reading for hours up until turning out the lights for bed did not bode well for me. I would lie there in the dark thinking about it, feeling as if I were somehow still in the story. In a very real sense it haunted me.

House of Leaves is a project and an experience

Is House of Leaves difficult to read? The annoying short answer: it depends. It's not structured like any other book I've read. There are multiple vibes within the book, different writing styles, puzzles, and references to other pages and appendices.

Knowledge is hot water on wool. It shrinks time and space.

Words on some of the pages are arranged in peculiar ways, but this adds to the feeling of what the words are invoking. It makes the reader become a part of the space that they are inhabiting through the words.

All of this may cause confusion and frustration. It may cause you to toss the book across the room and yell, "What is this pretentious gobbledegook?!"

Or it may draw you further into the story, worming its way into your mind until you find yourself continuing to think about it during the day even when the book is not physically near you.

Screw the cowbell. More footnotes! This book is footnotes galore. It may be tempting to skip over the footnotes but this would be a mistake. To skip them is to miss a big chunk of the overarching story.
Drawing of Will Ferrell during the famous 'more cowbell' SNL sketch. A speech bubble contains the words 'More footnotes!'

At times the writing drones on in an academic kind of way, and footnotes recalling sexual escapades can get to be a bit much. My ADHD would tell my brain to take a break and my attention would start to wander. But then BOOM, something happens and my attention was snapped right back.

There are a set of letters in Appendix E. that are written differently from the rest of the book. These letters will likely haunt me forever. They are poetic, beautiful, heartbreaking, and terrifying.

A word of caution for folks who are sensitive to animal harm. There is one part in a footnote entry where the character recalls witnessing a dog being tossed out the window of a moving car and seeing it die. It's rather graphic and upsetting.

My review from StoryGraph Mood: challenging, dark, mysterious, tense
Pace: slow
Plot- or character-driven: A mix
Strong character development: It's complicated
Loveable characters: No
Diverse cast of characters: No
Flaws of characters a main focus: Yes

Overall Rating 4.5 / 5 stars

#weird lit