Those of you that make a habit out of turning the pages of a new novel until completion, will get me. You’ll understand the fleeting emotion that starts at your gut and gradually makes its way to that corner of the mind where imagination lingers.
I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what makes a text a ‘page-turner’, something that you can’t be bothered to put down. You have to develop some kind of intimacy with one or more of the characters, be it platonic or romantic. You have to care. You have to genuinely worry about what may (or may not) happen to them on the next page. If the problem, no matter how obscure, can be related to on a (even pseudo) foundational level, getting to the last page equates to solving something within yourself.
People want that. People want to be told who they are. People are dying to relate to anything.
Now we take a look at presentation. To me, it has all to do with how a theme or message is conveyed. I want to get to know the book just like I would get to know anything that is worth loving. The strands that tie the character’s lives should be seamless in the context of the story. Their lives unfold before me just as it unfolds before them, but they are still their own people, in their own world, living out their own events.
Now here is where House of Leaves comes in and crushes all of that. I mean, I care about Navy and Johnny both, I can relate to some of their stories and whatnot but the thing that propels me forward is much less poetic. I have 212 pages left in Mark Z Danielewski’s 709 page meta-narrative. It’s getting weird. Really weird. I won’t spoil much of anything in this blog post but I will say that this book is by far one of the most unconventional novels I have ever read. It speaks to you, both literally and figuratively. It has footnotes. There are a number pages that only include one or at most 4 words. The layout is only one of many tools that the author uses in order to fuse together style and substance effectively.
In short, it is a story within a story about a twenty-something year old junkie that stumbled upon his elderly blind neighbor’s book and the plot unfolds from there. Now, is it worth reading? If you enjoy a descent into schizophrenia, yes. If you enjoy reading a fantastic metaphor for mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, yes. If you can empathize with the mentally ill, yes. However, if you are mentally healthy and have no acquaintance with metaphor, you probably won’t like it. You’ll view it as pointless pretension, gimmicky, and meaningless.
As a member of the former group, I highly recommend it. Give it a go, let me know what you think.