So naturally, House of Leaves does pretty much anyone who reads it an odd turn, in attempting to understand it, and that throws up the niggling little question of “How are you suppose to read this book?”. I always hated that question, because in my mind, the only way to read a book is to JUST read it at first, and worry about interpretation later. A good book is layered so that you have to keep coming back to it in order to take away more understanding. Catch-22 is a good example of this, telling a story on the surface but having about a ten-mile depth underneath.
House of Leaves is one such book that deliberately adds on more complexity in order to think outside of itself. Looking over it, I harkened back to my CCAC days in another literature class of mine which had us reading such works as the writings of Gustave Flaubert. Such was his method to have layered stories, including one particular obsession with a parrot. Technically, what I’m driving towards here isn’t about that, but rather the one book I kept from that course, known as Flaubert’s Parrot, by Julian Barnes. And the reason for that is…both Barnes and Danielewski are kind of similar in style.
Not to say that they’re a match, but that they use similar tools to grab the reader in similar ways. Check this out. The two books are equally metafictional in nature. We have an author writing about the exploits of someone else’s work (i.e. Zampano and Flaubert), using an unreliable narrator as the go-between to understand what has been going on. But because either of the middle-men cannot be fully-trusted and the sources raise the eyebrow of every skeptic, the tale on the surface can hardly be believed. Now…the tricky part. How many of you would say, if asked, that Zampano is just a load of Flaubert’s parrot, a red herring, a distraction from what’s really going on?
In Barnes’ novel, there are notes and side-comments from the in-book author of this apparent biography-metafiction that seem innocent and off to the side. In reality, Flaubert’s Parrot was really about this unreliable narrator, and I see that same instance with Johnny. In this case, it might be a lot less secretive about it, or I might even be wrong, but if you DID ask me how I read House of Leaves and I got past the sarcastic remark, I would say to read it like Flaubert’s Parrot. Granted, that might not be ALL that it’s doing – in fact, that’s almost a certainty – but I’m pretty sure that I’m onto something here.