WARNING: This writeup contains spoilers
about the novel House of leaves
. It should be read by people who have already read the novel
in question, or by people who don't mind important plot elements being revealed.
This is probably one of the scariest books I've read in a while, but for reasons different from most frightening novels. The book is, on one level, an examination of the effect of traumatic loss on the human psyche and soul. Many of the writeups above describe the superspatial black labyrinth that appears inside the home of one of the characters. The meaning of that labyrinth (and its never seen but sole implied, and horrific, occupant) is what makes the book so frightening.
The Labyrinth is comprised of elements simultaneously familiar and eerily alien; walls, ceilings, doors, floors, trim, all of the trappings of a modern house... but they are all comprised of a matte black material that reflects very little light. There are no lights, no decorations, no furniture, rather a series of jumbled empty corridors and rooms with no features other than doors. (no windows either.) The temperature is always hovering right about freezing. To compound that startling strangeness is the fact that the Labyrinth changes its size, configuration and complexity every time it is entered and indeed, even while it is occupied by the characters of the book who explore it.
All of that is frightening enough, without the additional elements that Danieliewski adds to the Labyrinth. An occasional distant roaring can be heard within it. Sometimes it sounds like rushing air, but other times sounding like the sound of a monstrous animal. Is this Labyrinth occupied by its own Minotaur? Other elements in different layers of the story support this notion, but the Minotaur is never directly seen. Whenever physical objects are ever left behind in the enormous maze, they are frequently found later, ripped to pieces.
Lastly, and perhaps most frightening of all, is that the Labyrinth tends to drive the people who enter it completely insane, and in one notable case, to homicidal mania.
So what does this all mean? One recurring theme in the book is that of loss. Every character who is connected to the Labyrinth and related/similar phenomena has experienced a brutal loss of some sort. Truant's father's death in a fiery truck accident, and his mother being committed to an insane asylum. The death of Zampano's son. Navidson and Daliah. Indeed, even Danielewski and the death of his father. The Labyrinth, and the Minotaur that possibly inhabits it, are symbolic of the damage caused by horrific trauma to the human psyche. The coldness, emptiness, alienation and dehumanization caused by traumatic loss, especially at an early age, are reflected very well by the physical and metaphysical structures of the Labyrinth. Perhaps this is what Danielewski meant to do in the first place; to cry to heaven and to anyone who will hear what death and loss can do to the fragile human soul.
Little solace comes
to those that grieve
when thoughts keep drifting
as walls keep shifting
and this great blue world of ours
seems like a house of leaves
moments before the wind.