Friday, February 5, 2010

House of Leaves

Imagine you find a partially destroyed manuscript in the apartment of an old man who died a few days earlier. It appears to be a critical analysis of a film purportedly documenting a haunted house written by Zampano, but when you investigate, you discover that everything mentioned in the manuscript--people, the house, the documentary--don't exist. That's the surface story in House of Leaves, but there is a second, simultaneous story about Johnny Truant, the roguish (and possibly psychotic) young man who discovers the manuscript while pillaging Zampano's apartment. Truant attempts to restore the manuscript, but the process of putting Zampano's words back together leads him further and further into a mental abyss.

House of Leaves is NOT a book I would recommend to high school students, but not because of the sex or language or violence, although there is plenty of that in the book. This is a complex text--multiple stories taking place simultaneously, coded messages, unreliable narrators, mysterious editorial staff--that takes serious focus and dedication to get through. It's pretty much the opposite of a Hemingway novel.

However, the very attributes that make House of Leaves so nearly inaccessible also prove that a book is more than ink on paper. There is as much happening in House of Leaves as in any other entertainment medium--film, TV, Internet or video game--without a power cord, batteries or software upgrades.

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