Saturday, October 27, 2012

A New Reason to be Afraid of the Dark

I love House of Leaves. It's a horror story with no vampires, no werewolves, no ghosts or demons, but still scary as any other book I've ever read. Even still, I am regretting my decision to pick this for my blog subject. It is one of my favorite books of all time (not to mention perfect for the Halloween season), but it is also one of the hardest to describe. It’s difficult for me to put into words an experience so psychologically horrifying or visually disturbing as reading this book. And now I have to convince you to read it without my usual crutch of being able to simply hand you the thing and watch you flip through the pages with your brow increasingly furrowing and your jaw lolling and drool running off your chin, when I exclaim with unbridled triumph and all-out-manic delight the word, “SEE?”

Anyway, that’s how it normally happens. I suppose I’ll just have to give this way a shot.

For my sake, let’s start off with the easy stuff:
1.       House of Leaves is a horror novel by Mark Danielewski.
2.       The novel is written as a documentary
3.       The documentary is based around a series of video records that may or may not exist
4.       These videos chronicle explorations of dark and physically impossible chambers that grow and move within the House
5.       The study of these videos was written by a blind man, who is now dead
6.       A young man named Johnny Truant finds this manuscript among the dead man’s things.
7.       Johnny Truant frequently interrupts the narrative with his own observations
8.       Johnny may or may not be a pathological liar and, in addition to that, he’s losing his mind.

In summary, it’s a novel written as a documentary which is written by a blind man about videos of a shape-changing House that he obviously couldn’t see, which could also have been completely fabricated to make a great premise for the blind man’s opus, which we’ll never know because he’s deceased and so  we can’t ask him, which is then edited by a complete stranger to the blind man and the project who becomes fanatically obsessed with learning the truth of the matter, but also professes in his increasingly schizophrenic tirades that he tends to lie a lot.

With me so far?

Come along, then. We’ll pick up the stragglers later.

The house of title fame belongs to a Pulitzer-winning photojournalist named Will Navidson who resides in this quaint countryside abode with his wife and two children. Everything seems just fine and dandy until  the hallway appears.

This hallway doesn’t connect two rooms. Rather, it branches off a living room wall and extends into total darkness. It is dark, featureless, and eerily cold. The general consensus is that it’s giving everyone the heebie-jeebies. So of course, Navidson busts out the camera and goes exploring. The walk from the living room entryway to the wall inside takes him five and a half minutes to complete. Sufficiently creeped-out, the family did the only sensible thing they could do: they boarded up the hole and stuck a door on it. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t help. Unable to contain his curiosity, Navidson opens the door for a peek only to find that the hallway has stretched out even farther.

Soon, they discover an entire catacomb of corridors and chambers has manifested behind the living room wall. Navidson hires a team of explorers to investigate the area. When they don’t return, he and his own team move in to rescue them. What they step into is a dark and foreboding place whose architectural make-up alters and moves while they’re inside. Where the darkness had once been utterly silent, now an otherworldly growl begins to draw nearer.

But what Navidson and his team find in the darkness isn’t a growling monster, it’s more terrifying than that. What they find in the darkness is what slowly drives poor Johnny Truant insane, it’s what we can assume made the blind man so obsessed with Navidson’s story, and what probably drove him a bit crazy, too. The madness they uncover  starts being mimicked by the book itself, with strange cross-outs, entire missing sections, incessant and disrupting footnotes, backwards print, and formatting that makes the writing near impossible to read.

Even though you’re positive you’re reading a novel and it’s fiction and you know in your noggin that the Navidson Record doesn’t exist, even though the characters in the book are themselves doubtful anything occurring is real at all, even though it makes no sense that a blind man would review a video documentary, even though there’s that ever-present Johnny Truant who has a penchant for fabricating wild, elaborate stories, what they find there in the darkness will make you keep the night light on. Even more frighteningly, you probably won’t be sure why.

And if that hasn’t convinced you, pick up the book and flip to the middle. Trust me on this one. 

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