Strange, scary, experimental, funny, weird, pretentious, parodic, mythic, metafictional to the nth degree; overstuffed, over the top, compelling, confusing, skimmable, intellectual, absurd; full of typographical tricks and flourishes, some brilliant, some irritating, some just plain weird; The Blair Witch Project reconceived as a novel as if in collaboration by Hunter S. Thompson, J. N. Thankachi, and the guy who created the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

Undoubtedly the oddest novel I’ll read all year, and it’s a tribute to it that I not only finished it, but enjoyed it, given that I generally dislike experimental writing.

Tattoo parlor bad boy Johnny Truant acquires a manuscript from the home of a blind and now-deceased old man, Zampano; the home has been hermetically sealed, there are ominous scratches on the walls as if by the claws of some gigantic cat, [1] and the manuscript itself is in pieces, heavily footnoted, written on napkins and matchbook covers, with portions blotted out.

The manuscript describes a famous cult classic documentary (or is it!?), The Navidson Record, about a family whose house is bigger on the outside than it is on the inside. Their attempts to explore its Escher-esque labyrinth lead down






to madness and obsession, death and daring rescues.

This story is interrupted by notes by Johnny Truant, who explains that the film in question doesn’t exist, casually mentions that he made some alterations to the text, and narrates in increasingly hysterical terms how he’s going insane in a welter of sex and drugs and maniacal attempts to make sense of the manuscript.

I was mostly bored and annoyed by Johnny Truant’s gonzo narrative, though I enjoyed the academic parodies and overlays. But the story of the house was splendidly creepy.

Danielewsky goes all-out to try to make the reading experience match the surreal creepiness of the setting, making the text do everything but handsprings as he goes. More often than not, it works, and sometimes it works brilliantly. For instance, a mildly funny riff on old-fashioned printing leads up to the memorably eerie “Ftaires! We haue found ftaires!”

This isn’t the sort of thing I usually like and I was unmoved by the central love story (no, not Johnny Truant and Thumper, though I was unmoved by that too), but I spent quite some time completely glued to this weird book.

[1] I inserted that joke. It is not made in the book. Probably. It could have been. I didn’t read large portions of it. [2]

[2] Portions I didn’t read: All material written in foreign languages, mirror-reversed, arranged in spirals, long lists of names, much of Johnny Truant’s excruciatingly boring narrative, and anything else which struck me as skippable.

Spoilers create a very small gap between the walls and the shelves )

House of Leaves


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