Saturday, September 24, 2011

House of Leaves pgs xi-53

So, I had a chance to make some headway on HoL, and my reaction so far is... mixed? The intro by the tattoo character who finds the manuscript was interesting enough. I found the voice really obnoxious though. Only a bit at first, and I thought that maybe it was something I could get used to, but then I loved the tone and voice of the actual manuscript so much that I found the times when the first voice butted in to be annoying distractions. And when his voice starts becoming rambly and almost delirious, I honestly started tuning out, which is not a good sign in a book where people kept telling me to pay attention to every word.

But oh, the Navidson Report! So good. I love hearing about this film, reading this close analysis of something inexplicable and imaginary. The logical and thorough way they deal with the discovery that the house is one quarter inch (then 5/16 of an inch) longer on the inside than the outside is so perfect. It never once feels contrived. It is even more unsettling because nobody wigs out or just starts reacting right away. They assume, as anyone would, that the problem is them. I find this really engaging, and even just 50 pages in, I've started to hate the boring intrusions where the tattoo shop guy talks about drinking and fucking and being weirded out by smells. I don't find the voice authentic at all, and I've started skimming.

As for the blue text for the word house, I've been thinking about this as I read. It's an interesting device actually, because it constantly reminds you of the house in a way that's different from just mentioning it all the time. I liked the idea of people finishing the book and still seeing the word house with a sort of blue afterglow, like lexical eye fatigue.

14 comments:

  1. I started House of Leaves a few years ago and never actually finished it. I think I got about 50 pages in. I agree--the main premise/house creepiness is awesome and authentic, and the strange realism of the Navidson Report makes it just creepier and cooler. But I could not stand footnote guy. I never found out his purpose in the story though...and I don't think he was the main reason I stopped reading. I think I stopped reading because I lost the book? Also it's kind of bulky and hard to read in bed.

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  2. Johnny Truant's parts in the beginning ramble on but if I recall correctly his entries go completely bananas and become pretty amazing.

    It's been 2 or 3 years since I finished House of Leaves and after seeing you talk about it here I think I'm ready to read it again. The problem will be finding the time to do it.

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  3. When I re-read it, I skip Truant's parts totally.

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  4. Johnny Truant's parts got more interesting to me once he started talking about blatantly lying, but then, I am a sucker for an unreliable narrator.

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  5. Truant definitely does get better later on once he starts going more and more batshit crazy, and the part about his mom was really well done, too. Don't completely tune him out, but The Navidson Record really is the more interesting part.

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  6. To experience the book as a whole, please do not tune out Johnny "footnote guy" Truant. He may be more important than you think. He may be something else entirely than you think. (He is not as he once was).

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  7. I concur with Whatanerd. You're going to miss some incredible things if you tune out Truant.

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  8. House of Leaves is definitely a mixed bag. Overall, I'd call it a great concept with middling execution. Parts of it (Truant's specifically) just seemed so amazingly contrived that I had a hard time taking it seriously, and most of the typographical gimmicks didn't really do it for me. The Navidson Record itself is what kept me reading. But I also love the Unreliable Narrator. What's great about HoL is the fact that there are an multiple Unreliable Narrators (Truant, Zampano, Zampano's league of grad students and translators, the mysterious editors, etc), all of whom have some small say in how the story is told.

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  9. I didn't like Truant at the start because he seemed too much of a wish-fulfillment character. But instead of liking him more as he fell apart, the whole routine seemed way too indulgent for me when he became too obvious a liar. The best reason for his inclusion in the book are the letters to him in the appendix.

    It's great, though, how the story builds on itself and gets the reader to accept its truth by building it up bit by bit. All the narrators and cited sources add to that effort, so I can put up with the one narrator I don't care for much :p

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  10. I read House of Leaves a few years ago and while I was immediately hooked and ended up reading every word, at the end I felt like Truant's part just didn't hold up. He has his moments but the Navidson Record is simply in an entirely different league.

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  11. House of Leaves is one of my favorite books, though I still can't think about it too soon before I go to sleep.

    With regard to Johnny Truant, I basically read a bunch of the plain narrative and then would go back periodically to read Truant's take on things. It helped me experience his reactions a bit more thoroughly, because I knew what he was reacting to. Also, he can get tedious, which I think is part of his appeal. At many points, you DO dislike him, because he's a whinging windbag, and a liar to boot. Still, he is thoroughly human, as are Zampano and Navidson, in ways that very few fiction authors can pull off.

    Also, you don't have to pay attention to every single word. I've read it a few times and find something new each time. If you obsessively glean everything from it, you'll get tired and bored. It's an exhausting book without over-doing it. People may advise you to glean it, but the truth is, they're trying to communicate an experience that happens over the totality of their experience, from re-reads and thumb-throughs and the like. Just go with it, it's amazing on the surface, and it weaves you in more deeply very organically. Don't force it.
    (Side note, while reading this the first time, during a section in the dark, my house lights cut out. Scared the shit out of me.)

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  12. It's natural that people would tell you to pore over every word, but don't take that at its word (hrm). If you really want to penetrate the mysteries of the book, you'll have to read it a couple times, and probably do some research online, and that's not the point of reading it your first time through. Read it naturally. Understand what you can, and accept and appreciate the parts that are really out there. The Navidson Record itself is phenomenal.

    This means that you can sort of skim Truant's parts. Try to absorb them, so you understand somewhat how they fit in, but you don't have to feel guilty if you occasionally have to float over them. I never got 100% of Truant's role until after the fact, when I read obsessively about the story in online forums and stuff. It is a bit indulgent, and it doesn't really stand on its own.

    The typographic tricks are distancing, but they become very powerful at certain moments. Don't entirely write them off. They contribute a lot to the rise and fall of the suspense.

    It's an amazing book. If it starts to lose you, try to stick it out until it gets good again.

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  13. Navidson! I started reading this book and got so scared by the Navidson Report that I didn't want to sleep. What ruined it for me - why I put it down - was the horrible narrator. He was inauthentic, sleazy, and selfish. Not to mention not believable, it was like someone trying to write what they thought someone like this was like, having had no experience with someone like that in real life. I presume the narrator went crazy and died? Good, he was a dirtbag and kept me from finishing what I know is a good read.

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