House of Leaves is an excellent read. Agreed, it is challenging at times, but I have encouraged a couple of friends to pick it up.
I suppose I will take the role here of pointing out that it is essentially a novel equivalent to the film style of the "Blair Witch Project".1 Just as BWP utilized its grainy, documentary style to present its story in as real a light as possible, House of Leaves is filled with each and every mechanism available to the world of text to cast the work in a "realistic" light. It is almost painfully footnoted. Every quote, presented fact, or reference lists a documented source with page numbers, publications, authors (most of them fabricated since the story isn't real, there certainly aren't any articles, interview, etc. to source about the events). Regardless, they add an air of authority to the content. And how many novels have you seen with an index? For added "realism" these notes are applied in layers by the "original" author (Zampano), by the person who collected and edited the original (Johnny Truant), and even supposedly by the publishing editor.
The many excursions from the main story line also add to the realism. Zampano's detailed analysis of literary and scientific references seem to add to the authority of the non-fiction aspects of the work. Truant's details of events within his own life add more flavor with his parallel events, further intriguing characters (Thumper and Lude, for example), and the efforts he had to go through to compile/verify Zampano's papers further stamp a true life situation on things.
I also agree with waterhouse2 when he refers to the narrative format as an element that strongly contributes to heightening the involvement of the reader. The many excursions and the often bizarre type layout which mirrors the conditions/events presented to/by the characters within the story is an effect that is meant to be engaging.
As a friend of mine put it when I showed him some of the more interesting aspects of the physical presentation of the words within the book:
"I have seen several books that work with an experimental layout before. I generally find them too painful to read after the first couple of pages."3
I responded with the fact that this book is also engagingly written, not only in having an intriguing story, but with the fact that the "experimental layout" does not really begin until you are already drawn in and participating in the story.
As to Sir Real's observation4: Why aren't there any serious critical examinations of the work? I am not sure, but could it be that the book itself is largely written as a critical work. That would probably throw most serious reviewers off, wouldn't it?
1 There is, of course, the further detail that the story has, at its core, a complete dissertation on a "true" story presented as a documentary film which seems a pretty heavy nod to the BWP to me.
2 E2 nodeshell House of Leaves, 2nd node
3 J.C., 14.01.2001
4 E2 nodeshell House of Leaves, 3rd node