The subject of my study is the novel House of Leaves, written by Mark Z. Danielewski. Danielewski’s debut in 2000, House of Leaves is the product of a decade of work, and, at 709 pages, it shows. The work is a multi-tiered, many-layered piece of self-referential fiction that turns an initially straightforward academic study into a nightmarish journey into the darkness of the unknown and the impossible. Purporting itself to be a found document, House of Leaves features about five different narrators who all pursue their own narrative streams. Instead of distracting from the “main story,” all of these different elements and stories collide and crunch together to create one massive work of literature that questions the very nature of literature as a storytelling work. Critical approaches to House of Leaves are numerous, as the work encompasses so many different forms of writing and opens itself to near-limitless interpretations. Most of the critical analyses center around the postmodern structure of the work, examining how Danielewski deconstructs meaning and identity by exploding the novel’s traditional format.
My paper will research the effects of structure in House of Leaves and how it informs the book’s idea of storytelling. The text’s unorthodox methods of narrative and typography create a literary labyrinth that reflects the labyrinth that lies within the house of The Navidson Record, which is the primary subject of the book. This labyrinthian structure also represents the struggle of the many characters, whether it is Will Navidson, Zampanò, Johnny Truant, Truant’s mother, or Danielewski himself, to tell the story that they are embroiled in. This labyrinth is both a physical place and a place of consciousness; each character that faces their own demons travels through this vast, empty maze. Critic Will Slocombe argues the labyrinthine structure shows that Danielewski is truly channeling the Derrida-esque ideal that nothingness lies at the base of the work, and that nihilism is the ultimate conclusion that the work arrives at. Although the novel follows in the postmodern tradition of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, House of Leaves does not give its characters up to be obliterated in the meaninglessness of the text. Critics Natalie Hamilton and Katharine Cox both argue that the novel follows the narrators’ journeys into the labyrinth of the story that are, in the end, productive and not deconstructive. Although great pain is suffered and lives are lost in the process, the narrators are ultimately brought through the darkness of the labyrinth. My paper will first present and respond to the critical attitudes typified by these three critics. I will then examine how House of Leaves achieves its thematic effect concerning storytelling both via and despite his work’s thoroughly postmodern, unorthodox structure. Finally, this paper will examine the issue of the narrators’ identities and how they are informed by their storytelling. I will argue that it is by their capacity to relate their struggle to outside observers that they are redeemed through their trials.