This week is Horror Week over at GoodReads! I could use this opportunity to hype any of the fine and frightening horror anthologies to which I have contributed stories over the years, but instead I just want to pay my respects to one of the giants of the field, inspired by the fact that I saw someone comment that Horror Week was inspiring them to finally tackle reading the novel: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski.
I picked up House of Leaves for the first time about ten years ago and found the entire experience deeply affecting. That’s the thing about House of Leaves, you don’t so much read it as experience it. It is immersive and meta and, for me at least, highly unsettling. It’s both a compulsive page-turner and a little bit repellent. Now, granted, at the particular time in my life that I fell into House of Leaves my oldest child was my only child, not even two months old. So on the one hand I was not getting much sleep and was susceptible to suggestion and weird flights of fancy, and at the same time I was highly attuned to ideas of home and family and the fragility of happiness and the meaning of life and all that. But given the enduring reputation of the book, I don’t think my individual circumstances at the time account for all of it.
I’m being deliberately vague about the content of the book itself because if you’ve never read it I highly recommend doing so (assuming you have a reasonable threshold for being existentially creeped out) and further recommend going in knowing as little as possible. If you want a little more concrete info you may click on the first mention of the title above, which links back to my GoodReads review of it from 2008. One thing I mentioned in that review which I think bears repeating was the fact that over the course of making my way through House of Leaves it got so harrowing I had to stop using a bookmark. Because you see, at the time, I was using a snapshot of my wife as my steady bookmark, and the story the book was telling started to feel like something malignant I was wrestling with, and I had an unshakeable feeling that using an image of my wife to keep my place in it would somehow expose her to a dark, corrupting influence. I knew on most rational levels of my brain that was completely crazy, but my animal instincts to be better safe than sorry won out. And a decade letter, I can still remember that sensation of needing to protect my loved ones from the yawning abyss inside of House of Leaves.
Cheers to all the horror out there that can rattle people’s skulls half so well!