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House of Leaves Explained

House of Leaves Explained

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Join me in reading and grappling with a new novel.  Join me in The House of Leaves Explained!  If you’ve been here more than once you’ll know that I like to think. And often times, like a pitbull, I don’t have any idea when to let something go. Probably around 10% of all my comments here say something like this: “Dude, its just a Movie (or book or what have you)… let it go!!” But I like to experience things deeply and cogitate extensively on the various possibilities and realities involved. (And maybe even bloviate a bit even.) Any doubt of this just feel free to browse the most commented posts on this site. I think the most verbose blog entry has a total of more than 80 pages single spaced in word. 60,000 words? That’s like half a novel. Right, so things get a bit out of hand here sometimes. But that’s the way I like it – out of hand. Completely and totally out of hand.

So this blog post will be a bit of a continuation of the same out-of-handedness, while also trying to be significantly more experiential. Here’s what I plan to do. There is a book, entitled the House of Leaves that is a cult classic. You’ve almost assuredly heard of it because like 75% of the people that come to this page will have just typed the phrase – “House of Leaves Explained” or some such. I’ll get to the book in a minute and why the House of Leaves, but right now let me explain what it is that I plan to do. Basically, I haven’t even read it yet. Well, I’ve read 10 pages, but that’s about it. Over the course of my reading I will update this blog post as to my progress. And then when I am done I will review it and explain it – if there is any explaining to be done. But it will be all done here – as you watch. So if you are here early, there won’t be much of an explanation. But if you would like to read along – GREAT! More the merrier. I will keep you updated as to my experience as I go and my basic feelings and thoughts. I’m sure I’ll be lost as I go – but I will experience it in all my emotional honesty and stupidity as I go. Seeing as though I can only read it for the first time once – I will just go with it.

Now as to the book. Probably the closest book to it might possibly be David Foster Wallace’s ‘Infinite Jest‘. Obviously different but similar in its differences. In Infinite Jest Wallace conjures up a movie that kills people with amusement. A movie that spreads like a plague and whole rooms of people die as they are trying to rescue others who were already watching. I hear there are similar elements here as well about a viral movie that has told of a house that has very strange qualities to it. Regardless, I have yet to read the House, but it feels like it is so different in its technique and its genre smashing that it is similar to IJ and its of genre definition. Similar to Wallace and his writing I think… as well as the fact that they both make use of copious footnotes. House is apparently a horror novel within a novel wherein Mark Danielewski, the author, uses extensive typographic trickery to tell the story. That bit of it reminds me of Jonathan Safran Foer… who did quite a bit of this in his ‘Everything is Illuminated’.

Regardless, I will stop talking authoritatively about a book I haven’t read yet and begin my updates now!

House of Leaves Explained

6.28.2012 – 1% complete

Purchased the book absurdly late last night – read 10 pages and promptly fell asleep. Waited way too long to start. But I love the tone of the first few pages. Love the opening few lines: “I still get nightmares. In fact I get them so often I should be used to them by now. I’m not. No one ever really gets used to nightmares.” Brilliant sense of instant foreboding and foreshadowing. There are a number of lists out there that have House of Leaves at the top of their modern horror novels. So, I’m pretty excited about the throbbing since of foreboding to get more and more intense. Can’t wait!

6.29.2012 – 4.9% complete

I find myself smiling as I’m reading. The story so far is of a man, who finds a book, and he begins to discuss his findings about said book. Then the narration slides into the book, which is all about a movie that may or may not be real. As the book is discussing the movie we get footnotes about the guy who found the book. Its immersive and completely recursive in its telling. Oh and never mind the fact that it is known that the key top level narrator is known to be unreliable. Seems to be discursive in extreme. Discursively recursive even. (Reminds me of my favorite IJ quote – “Suprasubliminal and the like.”) Regardless, any book that has me grinning like a Cheshire Cat as I go is a good book.

6.30.2012 – 10.2% complete

So last night was a party in Denver, too much noise and alcohol and the thought of my House of Leaves in the background. A great time was had actually but when we returned I couldn’t keep my eyes open. But somehow I managed to wake up and read until 3 am. The measuring has begun. The house transformations are beginning in earnest now. And Truant has begun to become smarter I do believe. His vocabulary since reading the book has increased remarkably. I personally believe at this point that something similar happened to Zampanò. But we shall see.

7.1.2012 – 19.5% complete

A lot has happened of import (at least from my limited vantage) over the past hundred pages or so. The house’s gymnastics have continued with great earnest. Doors have bolted the spaces shut and Bambi has been met. The most significant of occurrences though would have to be ‘Exploration A’. The madness has begun to seep upwards through the levels of narration like a spilt ink. And the malevolent intent of the house is becoming more and more apparent. It’s definitely got a Paranormal feeling to it. Super8 cameras on tri-pods watching as the house comes to life. Very similar.

“And so now, in the shadow of unspoken events, I watch Zampanô’s courtyard darken. Everything whimsical has left.

I try to study the light-going carefully. From my room. In the glass of my memory. In the moonstream of my imagination. The weeds, the windows, every bench.

But the old man is not there, and the cats are all gone.
Something else has taken their place. Something I am unable to see. Waiting.

I’m afraid.
It is hungry. It is immortal.

Worse, it knows nothing of whim.”

7.3.2012 – 26% complete

Since my last update I tiled a bathroom and toured the Waldo Canyon fire devastation. Kind of a lot going on I guess. But I’m stilling making this book a priority – just not high enough for my liking. When I’m away it’s like a siren song calling me back to my own destruction. I had my first psychic invasion by the book to my dreams. Think cats and enormous writhing maggots. I’ll leave it at that.

“In lieu of a schematic, the film offers instead a schismatic rendering of empty rooms, long hallways, and dead ends, perpetually promising but forever eluding the finality of an immutable layout.”

The momentum of the book seems to be accelerating substantially now. Navy explored the hallway himself, violating his agreement with his wife (which seems critical to the moral underpinning of the novel). Exploration (or surgery or investigation or attack – the metaphors are changing rapidly) numbers 1 – 4 have now occurred and the house is now immenating SOS distress signals. This bit is reminding me more and more of the Shining. House explorations where we know it is unwise to continue but since everyone has been driven mad by it all they continue anyway.

7.5.2012 – 46% complete

It’s Go Time. The book has sped up considerably. The Expedition 4 has spiraled and the recovery response has spiraled in return. My favorite part of the book so far definitely has to be the hallway with all the doors that slam, shut, one, by, one, and standing, there, in the hallway, is, the, shape, of, a, man, with, a rifle, up, on, his, arm… Loved that bit. Loved it.

Which might be worth some sort of smile, if I hadn’t already come to realize that irony is a Maginot Line drawn by the already condemned—which oddly enough still does make me smile.

7.5.2012 – 52% complete

Just had to stop and say how much I absolutely adored this piece and the corresponding realization. Perfect blend of fear, awe, math and dread…

If Tom dropped it say a few minutes after Reston reached the top, then it’s been falling for at least fifty minutes. I’m too muddled to do the math but it doesn’t take a genius to realize I’m an impossible distance down. [251—If Dft = 16t2 where time is calculated in seconds, the quarter would have to have fallen 27,273 miles exceeding even the earth’s circumference at the equator by 2,371 miles. Calculating at 32 ft/sec2 the number climbs even higher to 54.545 miles. An “impossible distance” indeed.

and then this:

the distillate of crayon and colour traced out by the hands of two children captures the awfulness at the heart of that house better than anything caught on film or tape.

7.6.2012 – 64% complete

I’ll be completely honest here and say that I was confounded at the pace combined with the hundreds of pages left in the novel. Confused really. Here we have the house fully alive and everyone running for their lives and yet we still have hundreds of pages to go before the final denouement. But exciting it was none the less. But since the family left the house I will admit that I’ve been bored out of my mind. Karen has taken to film making and interviewing celebrities for their opinions on the house etc. At one point some editor of the book or of the movie, I am not certain, makes the comment that ‘the audience doesn’t care, they just want to get back to the house’… Which is true. I definitely don’t care… And yes, all I want is to get back to the house.

While I enjoy the meta conversation about the movie and the learning on the topic I think it is actually undermining any inherent tension and stress being built into the plot. But maybe the intent of the book isn’t to be innately scary as an end. Maybe it is only frightening as as an accidental byproduct of the action and the primary dialogue is the critical discussion of the events. I though, picked up the book hoping to read a book even scarier than The Shining… which is in my opinion the scariest book of all time. (Funny to write this while only a minute or two away from the Stanley, but I digress from my digression). But maybe I was incorrect as to what this book was. The verdict is still out. We shall see.

7.8.2012 – 80% complete

Finally, back to the races again. When this book moves, it really moves.

Dreams getting worse. Usually in nightmares you see what you’re scared of. Not in my case. No image. No color. Just blackness and then in the distance, getting closer and closer, beginning to pierce some strange ever–present roar, sounds, voices, sometimes just a few, sometimes a multitude, and one by one, all of them starting to scream.
Do you know what it’s like to wake up from a dream you haven’t seen? Well for one thing, you’re not sure if you were dreaming or not.

The verdict is still out but at least it’s firing on all cylinders again.

7.9.2012 – 100% complete

Ok, so I’m sure I will write a full review above, but my initial reaction is that it is a very good different book than I was expecting. The reason for my reading The House of Leaves was the result of the following Google search: “scariest book in the last 10 years”. So when I saw the House at the top of more than one list of the scariest modern horror lists I figured I’d finally give it a go. But…

Those lists are all wrong.

I remember two sections where I was distinctly thinking – ok, here we gooooo. stop. No no, here it is, here’s the big drop… Here we goooooo. Stop. It just wasn’t scary at all. The documentary of the events, the constant dissection of events as they were happening, the perpetual nuance of everything happening caused the events of the house to recede and take on a less urgent light. Never mind the fact that the events of the house – if taken on their own aren’t scary at all. House of Leaves has been written as a very scary non-meta-non-ironic version and it is called The Ruin by Scott Smith. Now THAT is scary. Same concept too. Or The Shining even by the right honorable Stephen King. Both books are leaps leaps leaps above this book.

Ok so I was mislead. It isn’t a scary book at all – well, minus a deep sense of dread that is. But it just generally isn’t the book I thought it was. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad book just that it’s not the book I thought it was. But seeing as though I’ve basically been stalking this book for the greater part of ten years, I have more than just a little bit of baggage to work through to determine what it is exactly that I think of it.

My first reaction is that it is actually a love story. That is buttressed by this quote from the end of the book:

Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance.

It means to suffer

The relationship between Navy and Karen is dense with complexity. It’s real and it’s intense in a way that is rarely correctly depicted in a novel. Marriage as a struggle. Marriage as a trudge. Which is what I see it as. The House itself and the chaos that happens there is just a metaphorical depiction or externalization of this struggle. Which is definitely a book worth reading. Don’t get me wrong – definitely worth reading. But it isn’t or shouldn’t be anywhere on a list of the most frightening modern novels. Definitely not. Obviously this just speaks to the very tip of the ice berg. But those are just my initial thoughts after just closing the book moments ago.

(Note to current readers – feel free to comment away! – but do not post spoilers, please for obvious reasons. Spoilers will be coming soon enough. THANKS!. Spoil away even. This is now a spoil filled zone!)

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6 Responses

  1. Ned

    Okay, cool, you do sort of book reviews, too; plus, thoughts about movies, a Bible Experiment blog, interviews with various people from all walks of life, introduce and share art finds, give excerpts from your own book…and many more topics one may eventually come across. Is there some way you can index all these things you creatively and entertainingly write about so folks can more readily look them up, find them?

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts about “House of Leaves”—it’s a unique book. Goodreads offered two lengthy well-written reviews by a couple of fellows with opposing feelings about the book—your review was Somewhere in the middle.

    It’s not a horror story as it’s been mistakenly placed…perhaps as a way to hype it, get more readers? Anyway, I shared the same as you after reading it except maybe wondering a bit if the author is laughing at us.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Ned,
      Good question. For movies, I went through the painful exercise of indexing all my THiNC Approved movies right on the front page. (By the way, My Cousin Rachel is a must see, you’ll dig it I’m sure.)

      The header menu will get you to topical areas you can scroll through at your leisure. But only like 5 of them. I have like 20. So, yeah – no, there isn’t. I have considered moving to a different WordPress theme that would do exactly that, but I’ve yet to find a good one. Please know though, that of my traffic, less than 10% are returning visitors. (Maybe because they can’t index!!?! Hahah.) so I mainly consider SEO and google visitors more so than internal navigation. Which, I know is a failure of mine. But switching sites seems a bit daunting. I could put my different topical writings in blocks on the front page. But I do less and less non-Movie stuff now. I actually spent a solid year doing book review posts hot and heavy. Like 8 to 10 books a month. But literally no one read them! Well, sometimes the authors themselves would swing through… but otherwise, no. So yes, I am something of a sell out it would seem.

      As for the book. I adore this book. It’s just not what it was billed to me as originally. By the way, how’s your Infinite Jest reading coming along?!? Heheh.

      Happy Christmas Lauren, I mean Ned, I mean, Cynthia, or whomever.

      Reply
  2. Ned

    “Infinite Jest” is the next book to read in the near future and promise to let you know the day it arrives from Amazon. And Taylor, since you’ve touted it so highly, I’m choosing to read/keep it in book form instead of as an ebook.

    Reply

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