Here, in our tiny corner of Balham we are, unfortunately, in the business of judging books by their covers. It would be lovely to say that each one of our books was lovingly selected by our well-read team of dedicated volunteers but unfortunately our volunteers are not that dedicated and our business plan is a little more skewed towards making money (you know, in order to feed the world). Sometimes, however, books come in that should be judged by more than what they look like. Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves is definitely one of these. To begin with it doesn’t look like a work of fiction. It is awkwardly wide and tall (too tall to fit on our regular shelves, unfortunately). This is not a book to hold comfortably in one hand while you doze off in the bath. The back cover is filled with vague but laudatory reviews from various places and it is not until reading the inside blurb that the reader discovers what this book is even about.
The blurb is as follows:
Johnny Truant wild and troubled sometime employee in a LA tattoo parlour, finds a notebook kept by Zampano, a reclusive old man found dead in a cluttered apartment. Herein is the heavily annotated story of the Navidson Report.
Will Navidson, a photojournalist, and his family move into a new house. What happens next is recorded on videotapes and in interviews. Now the Navidsons are household names. Zampano, writing on loose sheets, stained napkins, crammed notebooks, has compiled what must be the definitive work on the events on Ash Tree Lane.
But Johnny Truant has never heard of the Navidson Record. Nor has anyone else he knows. And the more he reads about Will Navidson’s house, the more frightened he becomes. Paranoia besets him. The worst part is that he can’t just dismiss the notebook as the ramblings of a crazy old man. He’s starting to notice things changing around him . . .
Again, this makes the books seem like a difficult series of nested stories. Looking further inside the book, the potential purchaser will find that the text is littered with footnotes and obscure layouts (some pages only have a few words on them). All these things give exactly the wrong impression of this book. It is, in fact, very easy to read and although, the unusual choices of the author can be a little distracting it is immediately obvious what their purpose is. The different narrators are kept quite separate and the plot moves along at such a pace that it’s easy to keep track of. Most importantly this is a wonderful, scary and moving novel that has an intellectual side but doesn’t ruin the narrative with it. Ignore the size and the off-putting layouts, this is book that deserves to be read.