Eve Connor describes why Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is the perfect book to accompany spooky season.
Wintery nights are the perfect time to be wrapped in blankets, shivering not just from the cold, but from the spine-chilling horror novel in your lap. If you want to be not just spooked or scared, but terrified in a way few other books can, look no further than Mark Z. Danielewski’s cult novel House of Leaves. Released in 2000, it is the perfect companion as we approach Halloween.
It begins with the primary narrator, Johnny, who finds a manuscript in his recently deceased neighbour’s flat. The manuscript describes a (possibly fictional) documentary made by a photojournalist called Will Navidson, whose new house is bigger on the inside. The two stories then unfold simultaneously; that of Navidson and his family discovering the secrets of a house that grows a new hallway one day, and that of Johnny, whose lifestyle of drink, drugs and hook-ups is slowly crumbling as the demons from his past come back to haunt him.
The novel is written in a unique way, with Navidson’s storyline as the main text, and Johnny’s unfolding in the footnotes. In the latter half of the novel, the layout of the pages mirrors the action taking place within the story, the words spiralling and contorting on the page. Though this may initially seem off-putting, or perhaps gimmicky, it works to excellent effect, adding to the pace, the tension - and the dread. It feels almost like a found footage film in literary form - a staple of the horror genre for a reason. But it is a subtle horror that relies less on blood, gore and jump scares than the fear of the unknown, of what is just out of sight.
Although it initially requires an investment of time, Danielewski offers a little something for everyone. House of Leaves has been classified as horror, but also as a satire, experimental literature, and even a romance. It’s perfect for anyone who likes a puzzle; asking the reader to become as obsessed with the mystery of Navidson’s story as Johnny is.
As horror novels go, House of Leaves elicits an insidious sort of terror: as Navidson journey’s deeper into his labyrinthine house and as Johnny loses his hold on reality, you find yourself unable to stop reading, continuing into the early hours of the morning. Then, when you eventually try to sleep, you’ll find you can’t - you’ll hear every creek in your house and misinterpret every shadow.
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