The House of Leaves can easily be described as more of an experience than just a written story. This book was written by Mark Z. Danielewski and compiled by Johnny Truant and edited by The Editors and written by Zampano about a documentary film by Navidson. It also has a companion music album by Poe called Haunted. Poe is Mark’s sister and they simultaneously wrote their respective works influencing each other rather than either being the original art.
In my opinion this book has been mislabeled as a horror and some claim it’s the scariest book they’ve ever read. The story has some horror elements in it for sure, but the type of horror would be better described as cosmic or existential horror. Not really meant to shock you or get your heart pounding but can keep you up at night as you ponder the big questions in life like “What did I just read?” “Am I too going mad.”
The bulk of the story is focused on what is called The Navidson Record. Its author was a blind man named Zampano who has written hundreds of pages of content fully analyzing a documentary that apparently does not exist. These pages were discovered by a tattoo artist named Johnny Truant after Zampano’s death. Johnny felt the need to compile this record and get it published.
The Navidson Record itself is about a man named Navidson and his family moving into a new home. Navidson is a prize-winning, world-traveling photography but has decided to settle down in order to save his marriage to his wife Karen. He begins filming everything in the house with installed video cameras in order to document his life as a way to adjusts to his new lifestyle. He becomes obsessed with measuring the home when he notices an odd discrepancy where he believes the inside of the home is bigger than the outside by 1/4 inch. From there things spiral as a new closet forms and eventually a whole labyrinth is discovered under the house.
Zampano describes all of this in a type of review or blow-by-blow commentary. He supplements the text with his opinions on things, reviews from other notable authors, how the public treated Karen after the first showings, textbook descriptions on echoes and light. He also meticulously credits anything and everything in the footnotes sometime listing pages upon pages of people’s names, important places, styles of architecture. Johnny also adds his own journal in these footnotes going on for multiple pages about his random sexual exploitations and how the story is slowly driving him mad. When you think you’ve finished the book, there’s nearly two hundred pages in the appendices including multimedia images, poems, and most importantly, several letters from Johnny’s mother to Johnny. In these letters she desperately seeks a relationship with Johnny from a mental hospital known as The Three Attic Whalestoe Institute.
Phew, just briefly describing the plots in this book can become it’s own novel. But the reason I wanted to bring attention to it is, of course, the secret messages! This book is completely packed full of hidden messages, codes, Easter eggs, hints. There’s braille, Morse code, different languages, different fonts, different colors. There’s meaning and thought behind everything written. Even the formatting is designed to make you feel a certain way and read a certain way as you turn the book back and forth or feverishly flip through several pages that only contain a few words.
A few examples I’ve found include using the paragraphs in a 3 long, 3 short, 3 long format to spell out S-O-S in Morse code. That’s one of the easy ones though as it literally tells you S-O-S in several ways in that chapter. In her letters to Johnny, the mother doesn’t trust her caretakers in properly sending out her mail so she describes to Johnny a few techniques she will use to send him messages in coded form. Applying these same methods into the footnotes and Johnny’s stories can turn out some interesting messages. Taking the first letters of each footnote will occasionally spell out the authors name Mark Z. Danielewski. On page 64, the footnote starts a list of photographers that Zampano wanted to credit. Taking the first letter of the surnames revealed “A LONG LIST…” followed by some gibberish and a few other messages. There are tons of forums online of people intent on finding all of these codes if you want to find more.
When I discovered this last code however, it gave me pause to continue looking for any more hidden messages. There are secrets sprinkled literally everywhere throughout the book, but it’s almost treated like a joke or to provide an endless amount of information to distract from the point. So what is the point? I believe that the mountain of information you receive and the never-ending codes you can find are meant to create its own labyrinth to the reader.
In the Navidson Record, Navidson goes on many expeditions into the maze beneath his home and ultimately finds nothing. There’s almost no point to it as he attempts to travel farther and farther into the abyss that provides him no answers to its existence. I believe the codes and information are meant to create the same feeling in the reader. Perhaps even provide a sense of horror that there might be some earth-shattering information you can get out of the hidden messages if you just keep searching for it. Maybe find the mystery as to who the true author might be, or the reason behind it all. It just isn’t there. The more time you spend looking for it the closer you get to the frenzied feeling that Navidson feels just hoping to find a reason behind it all.
This is backed up by the myth of Perseus and the Minotaur being completely stricken out but still readable, because this is not that story. I’m not saying this book it irrelevant or meaningless, but sometimes you just have to take something at face value.
There is a 9-day challenge where you force yourself to read nearly 700 pages in that time. I think this could be beneficial for your first time going through this monster. There’s a lot of book here but don’t be intimidated as some of the sections can go by quickly. Such as just glancing over the long lists provided instead of reading every word and the nearly 100 pages with barely any text at all. Whatever you do, do not skip the appendices. They aren’t just there to look pretty and add pages. They completely change the story depending on the angle you take. Never leave a house unsolved!
-J.C. Mystery Detective