a house whose dimensions are larger within than without.
i can't believe no one has mentioned the fact that each time the word house appears within the book, it appears in blue ink. this 700 page hypertext ghost story started out being a small project with a small publisher, an obscure paperback, a miniscule advance, no book tour. but suddenly, there was hype. bret easton ellis (the author of american psycho) wrote a phenomenal blurb:
"a great novel, it renders most other fiction meaningless. one can imagine thomas pynchon, j.g. ballard, stephen king and david foster wallace bowing at danielewski's feet, choking with astonishment, surprise, laughter, awe."
danielewski says that he views house of leaves as a play with three characters. these would be the blind old man, the young man, and an extraordinarily gifted woman. they are each telling frightening stories and sad stories, and even sex stories, although they are difficult to see.
i flipped out when i realised this book was affiliated with the rock star poe. i had just stumbled across her album haunted recently after owning the book for about a year, and being fascinated by the shy footnotes* and sdrawkcab words and mirror images and mazey passages. i then found a track on her album called, yes, 'house of leaves' and freaked. then i find out that poe was danielewski's sister, and that her album was a concept recording not based on his book, not a soundtrack for the book, but an intertwining interconnected piece of art. danielewski says, "It’s a parallax view of the same history." but not only was it a sibling affair, but a family affair, or sort of.. if you count ghosts. poe sampled audio recordings of her father's speeches and things after he died, and included them in the songs. danielewski's novel was also highly influenced by his father's background, who was an avant-garde filmmaker. danielewski likens his typographical innovations to techniques used in film.
parts of house of leaves are written in the form of concrete poetry, a subgenre of poetry whereby the arrangement of words mirrors the topic of the poem. for instance, the words to a poem about time might be arranged in the shape of an hourglass. in the book, a character is crawling down a claustrophobic tunnel and so the type shrinks to a narrow strip of words. danielewski says that his view of placing text on the page (as well as being influenced by such masters as e. e. cummings) was largely cinematic. he says he wasn't just trying to be all obtuse and clever in regards to the placement of the word. he was intrigued by the ways a reader navigates a book. he speaks about the elation of reading eighty pages in an hour, because everything is moving so quickly, and frustration because it takes an hour to read ten immensely cluttered pages. his text moves like a hitchcock film, like a camera: zoom in, zoom out, turn corners, speed up s l o w d o w n fade out.
it moves the reader all over the place, and also moves them along at a rate that keeps pace with the action in the novel. for instance, in the ninth chapter, (where a group of explorers begins to to discover the maze's vastness) the pages with two long, vertical footnotes, one of which is upside down. a third footnote appears embedded in the text inside of a blue box. these and other many distractions find the reader feeling similarly lost and confused. the actions then speed up in the tenth chapter where the novel reads as quickly as a children's book without pictures. each page contains just a couple of words or a phrase, and the reader flips through them very quickly and frantically.
danielewski uses a different typeface for each of the book's narrators. "there's a reason johnny truant's typeface is called courier," danielewski tells us. "everyone calls it normal type or typewriter face, but it's 'courier', and courier's important because...johnny is a courier of sorts." zampanò's typeface is times, the title page is dante and the editors' typeface is bookman. "and the reason those names came about wasn't purely haphazard."
daniel thinks the structure of house of leaves is far more difficult to explain than it is to read. he is humble, saying, "while I'd like to lay claim to some extraordinary act of originality, truth is I'm only taking advantage of capabilities inherent in everyone. whether it's dealing with magazines, newspapers, radio, tv, and of course the internet, most people living in the 90's have no trouble multi-processing huge sums of information. they may not know it but they're doing it. it's the same as walking or looking for movie times, we're all involved--for the most part unconsciously--in a massive, usually successful, mental juggling act, simultaneously sorting national stories, shopping lists, the sounds of a neighbor speaking a language we don't understand, music we'd like to understand better, the image on a poster, and all this mixed in with our appetites, emotional murmurs, and frequently the sudden appearance of a seemingly random recollection."
in the end, house of leaves is about fear, and its unsettling nature. he wished to address that, so that it wasn't scary anymore. he believes in facing fears and looking underneath anger to a place where we may find solutions and insight. it is also about recovering from fear.
i got this information from clippings, information i already ate up long ago, and a conversation danielewski had with the publishers at random house.
*danieliewski says "the footnotes are more like a chorus, in some ways anonymous, but it some ways very tricky...a nagging voice that goes 'nyah nyah na na na nyah nyah na na na," and makes a little comment." and yes, dear noders, that was a gratuitous use of a footnote.
PS - for anybody who is going to whinge about my decapitalisation, get over it. there is no way you will be able to read this highly experimental book, the house of leaves, if you're going to insist on griping over grammar conventions. this was intentional. let me leave it this way.