House of Leaves is quite possibly one of the hardest and slowest novels that I have ever read. The layout of sections hinders me from quickly reading through a page, because I am constantly jumping to the appendixes and footnotes. Within the first 152 pages there are 198 numbered footnotes along with a large group of footnotes that are marked with a symbol. There are two very difficult passages that I met while reading House of Leaves. Both passages are chapters that revolve around defining a term. The first passage was based on the three definitions of echo, and the second explored the word labyrinth.
Chapter IX begins with a confusing, twisting, mind wrenching exploration of what is know as a labyrinth. Of the 198 numbered footnotes over the first 155 pages, there are twenty-one numbered footnotes along with a few symbol footnotes in the first nine pages of this chapter. Most of these are not typical footnotes that act to reference or define/translate a word or phrase. The footnotes act as a labyrinth through which an understanding of labyrinth is established. The layout of this section is designed to resemble a labyrinth. What the words mean is not hard to understand in comparison to how hard it is to read this section. The following image is a representation of the nine pages with colors sections of the labyrinth.
I included this image because I decided that words couldn’t describe the complexity of the labyrinth. The pages are read from the top and to the right. The colors start with orange and continue as follows: dark orange, dark blue, pink, light green, dark brown, purple, yellow, light blue, dark green, light brown and finally gray. (Just a note of caution, this is my best attempt at deciphering the paths that allow the reader access to the entirety of these nine pages. A better way may exist, but after spending a considerable amount of time, this is the best design I could produce.) When deciding when to change colors I used the following method. If a footnote appeared as a branch in the path, when it came to an end, so did the color. If a footnote was short and seemed like it was a traditional footnote, I would allow the same color to be used in the text that followed the footnote. At any point were a later footnote path overlaps with an earlier path, the later path immediately stops, and the story is picked back up where the later footnote diverged. It can be seen that the path to complete these nine pages is very complex. On three occasions over these pages the reader is returned to the beginning of the labyrinth. The reader is also directed to the same footnotes within these passages on multiple occasions.
Danielewski makes us of this complex layout to prepare the reader for what is about to happen in the Navidson Record. Holloway and his men are about to descend into a labyrinth that will not allow them to leave with ease.
In order to fully appreciate the way the ambages unwind, twist only to rewind, and then open up again, whether in Navidson’s house or the film--quae itinerum ambages occursusque ac recursus inexplicabiles [“Passages that wind, advance and retreat in a bewilderingly intricate manner”]--we should look to the etymological inheritance of a word like ‘labyrinth’. The Latin labor is akin to the root labi meaning to slip or slide backwards though the commonly perceived meaning suggests difficulty and work. Implicit in ‘labyrinth’ is a required effort to keep from slipping or falling; in other words stopping (Danielewski 114).
I believe this quote sums up a lot of what Danielewski is trying to do with his labyrinth of passages. The “slip or slide backwards” is something that appears to happen quite often throughout these pages. As mentioned the reader at multiple times while following the laid out path will return to previously visited locations multiple times.
If the work demanded by any labyrinth means penetrating or escaping it, the question of process becomes extremely relevant. For instance, one way out of any maze is to simply keep one hand on a wall and walk in one direction. Eventually the exit will be found. Unfortunately, where the house is concerned, this approach would probably require an infinite amount of time and resources. It cannot be forgotten that the problem posed by exhaustion--a result of labor--is an inextricable part of any encounter with a sophisticated maze. In order to escape then, we have to remember we cannot ponder all paths but must decode only those necessary to get out (Danielewski 115).
The pages of chapter IX can be read in a different order other than the one depicted by the pathway above. By decoding the information at hand, and only following some of the paths a more structured story can be read. Danielewski pulls the reader into the world that Navidson, Halloway and his Halloway’s men face by incorporating these non-traditional means of story telling in his book House of Leaves.