House of Leaves had a profound impact on me, and if in the end I make something out of myself as a writer, I will have it to thank (or blame, depending on your perspective). Maybe that sounds like an overstatement to you. Hyperbole, perhaps. And in truth, it is. Because that is all you can get from a review of House of Leaves. No one reads Mark Z. Danielewski’s book and comes away lukewarm. They either love it or hate it. Or to be more precise, they do both.
When my best friend showed up at my house with a copy of House of Leaves, she presented the good-sized tome as a gift. “It’s a book about a house that’s bigger on the inside than the outside,” she said with a smile. Such a simple description. A pretty accurate one too, if you want a plot summary. But House of Leaves is so much more. It is a mystery and a psychological study and a horror novel and a puzzle box, all wrapped into one. It is the Lemarchand Box from The Hellbound Heart and H.P. Lovecrafts’s Necronomicon. It is a gift, and it is a curse, for rest assured—there will be times when you will want to quit this book. When you will want to throw it across the room and never pick it up again. But you will. You will because you want to know. Because you are just as curious as Johnny Truant and Will Navidson, and because you know that until you finish, the strange dreams that the book brings will not end…
Now, I don’t expect that this review has made much sense to you. Don’t worry, House of Leaves won’t either. Which brings me to how the book affected me. I hated House of Leaves, in a way at least. I hated it so much that I decided to write a book that was as completely different from House of Leaves as I could make it. One that reflected the older traditions of horror writing, free from the post-modern insanity contained within the pages of Danielewski’s dark masterpiece. In its opening pages, my book, That Which Should Not Be, is dedicated to those who made it possible. In a strange way, Mark Z. Danielewski is at the top of that list.
Why then, you ask, do I find myself recommending House of Leaves to every friend who asks for a good book to read? Because I love it too, and in its twisted and unexplainable pages I find something truly magical. House of Leaves cannot be explained. It cannot be synopsized. It can only be experienced.