Comprehending House of Leaves
House of Leaves is unlike any novel I have ever read, and presents a challenge in deciphering the multiple stories revolving around Zampanò’s writings. The Navidson Record is a pretty straightforward mystery-horror story, but the way it is presented along with Johnny Truant’s interjections give House of Leaves a different level of difficulty; a level that has me sometimes asking myself “what the hell am I reading?” I’ve been noting pages along the way that have confused me, but page 131 acts as a good representation of all my issues with the book. This page details an example of Truant’s hallucinations, his brief hookup with Ashley, a continuation of the upside down list of names from previous pages, a “window” that is listing features the Navidson house lacks, and a sideways footnote. Through further examination of these details and reasons for their presentation and difficulty I hope to understand the book better as a whole.
First, lets look at Johnny Truant. As the story is progressing, he seems to be sinking more and more into a state of delusion. This can be attributed to one of or a combination of three things: working through Zampanò’s writings, his lifestyle, and/or his troubled childhood. On page 131, he is visited by a ghost, which he first says is “a seventeen year old (girl) with gold braided hair” that he “encountered many years ago, maybe even in another life.” (Danielewski 131) He then goes on to realize the voice is coming from the “domed ceiling” rather than a fixed point. I understand why he is having these hallucinations, but what is this one’s significance? One possible explanation is that the girl is someone that he has mistreated or mistreated him. She could be from his childhood buried in his sub-conscience, or a hookup gone wrong. Either way, from the way she says his name there was obviously some sort of affection between the two (Danielewski 130, 131). Truant keeps putting off talking about a lot of his past, so this girl might be part of one of the unknown stories. This unknown ghost could also be a manifestation of Ashley. His subconscious may have been telling him to go meet her, if only for a random hookup. After all, that is what he seems to enjoy doing with his life. The dome ceiling most likely comes from Zampanò; referencing the Great Hall that Hollaway, Jed, and Wax discover, and also the theme of architecture widely present in The Navidson Record.
As I came across the giant list of names on the side of the pages in this section, I did not pay much attention to them. They seemed irrelevant to what I was reading at the moment and would not aid me in understanding the book anymore. After doing some random sampling, the names seem to be a list of architects, which makes sense because of the architecture theme. This still leads to the question, is there a deeper meaning to this list? Looking at the house that Navidson and his family reside, it has no set definition of architecture. The mysterious part of the house seems to move on its own and the distances change depending on the perception of the person exploring. The list comprises of many, many different architects from across time that all probably have their own style. Perhaps the correlation here is that all of the architects, when designing a building, have different visions of what they are going to create just as those who explore the Navidson house have their own perceptions of what they are looking for in the house and what they actually find. Hollaway goes into the house with the clear intent of hunting the monster so that is what he thinks he sees. Reston and Navidson go in for the rescue wanting to get to the lost party as fast as possible, so they want to see the staircase as being small as opposed to the previous explorers who were looking for the unknown, which caused the staircase to be massive. The architects want to see a, for example, a gothic style building so that is actually what they are going to design. The windows apparent on these pages could also go along with the architecture theme. They list features that the house does not have with increasing complexity from page to page. This is most likely a reference to the increasing complexity of the house as it continues to grow into a labyrinth. However, they are different kinds of complexity. The house keeps growing, but it is more of the same (bleak and ashy rooms and hallways) while each feature on the window would add something different to the house. I think this is just a way of exemplifying the bleakness and twisted nature of the house. The explorers and the Navidson family may desire all the furnishings and supplies on the list, but the house is going to keep messing with them by giving them more of the same; they will never truly find what they are looking for.
The footnote content merely seems to be a simple citation. What is more important to me is its orientation as well as the arrangement of the rest of the page. Efficiency is obviously not the intent of the arrangement. The author wants us to turn it sideways for the footnote and upside down for the architects, but why? A similar approach was used in the beginning of Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid in the World. Chris Ware used it to signify that something was different, something was off and that the reader should definitely take notice of the first few pages of Jimmy’s past (Ware). What is Danielewski trying to get us to notice? The arrangement is possibly trying to call attention to the randomness of the Navidson house. Walls are always moving and distances are always changing, which confuses anyone who dares to enter it. Upside down, sideways, and backwards writing also give a sense of disorientation to the reader. The difficulty in understanding the material along with the arrangement of text on the pages were probably Danielewski’s way of trying to get us to feel what the explorers were feeling; confusion and disorientation.
I’m extremely grateful I picked this prompt. Analyzing the material on just one page has helped me get in the right mindset for the rest of the book. I now understand that the difficulty of the material is not to deter the reader, but to compliment the actual story. We were meant to ask questions and think about the arrangement of text, and the significance of seemingly random ghosts or lists of names and materials, not simply bypass it and consider it insignificant.
Danielewski, Mark. House of Leaves. 2nd. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000. Print.
Ware, Chris. Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth. New York City: Pantheon Books, 2000. Print.