Monday, November 10, 2008

House's crazy form

After reading the first half of House of Leaves I’ve come to the conclusion that the author, Mark Danielewski was either on a ton of drugs, has a mental illness, a combination of the two or is one of the most creative narrative geniuses of our time. Though I can’t find any information pointing towards the first two from personal experience I can certainly say that at least painkillers let my creative juices flow so I won’t rule drug use out. Regardless, through the form, content and careful planning Danielewski has created such a unique work that evokes deep thought and understanding of the text.

The main thing that distinguishes this body of work from the majority of other novels is the fact that is a story within a story. The author has created a narrator (Johnny) who is telling his tale while all along also publishing a deceased man’s (Zampanó’s) account on the non-existent documentary The Navidson Record. While that many layers would be nearly impossible to comprehend in an ordinary book Danielewski has managed to make it work. He does this by giving instructions how to read the work such as pointing out the different fonts for Zampanó’s work and Johnny’s own writing which is added as footnotes to the main text. Even with the sporadic instructions it can still be hard to tell what order to read the text, but the beauty of the book is that it doesn’t really matter. This is where Danielewski takes a note from comics like Jimmy Corrigan where the reader determines in what order they read the frames. Whether you decide to read all of Zampanó’s writing then go back and read Johnny’s or just read a whole page at a time is completely up to you and in the end doesn’t really affect the result of the story.

The periodic hints of color throughout the novel point out specific words and evoke thought. By simply coloring the word house in blue and Minotaur (and the stories about it) in red Danielewski has created a distinct relationship between the two and brought it to the forefront of the reader’s mind. Just looking at the colors alone you can see a distinct difference between the two. Blue is generally a color that represents calm and coolness while red is seen as a color of rage and fire. The same feelings can be applied to the words they are used for. At least for me when I think of the word house I think of my home and family. Although I can definitely say my family is pretty crazy and things can get hectic I generally think of my home as a place to relax that’s comforting. On the other hand when I think of the word Minotaur I think of the Greek myth of the half-human half-bull that is seen as a vicious monster. These initial views are of course shaken as you read the novel and find out more about the Navidson house and the Minotaur. Through reading passages about the beast we find out that in reality the Minotaur is just a deformed man who is kept in a labyrinth. He doesn’t actually kill anyone instead the people who enter the labyrinth get lost and never escape. We thus see another light of the creature. The calm comforting image of a house is also shaken by the text. What started off as a mysterious anomaly, the new dark room of the Navidson house had slowly transformed into a deathly labyrinth and by the end was an unstoppable beast that killed Navy’s brother. By shaking up our initial judgments on the two words Danielewski forces us to open our minds and look past the obvious.

House of Leaves unique form has opened up new possibilities for books and is pioneer in its own right. It has turned what could be a complicated mix of two distinct stories in a very readable and even dare I say entertaining work. By pointing specific words out Danielewski forces the reader to look past one’s initial feelings and see things in a new light. The extreme makeup of the book is how Danielewski is able to express this tale in a way that couldn’t have been done using traditional methods.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

Your beginning is scattered, and doesn't serve any clear purpose that I can see. Your discussion of the emotional weight carried by the colors is more interesting - it's a good starting point, although there is much more that could have been done here with more focus.