REVIEW: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

(Official) Synopsis

Years ago, when House of Leaves was first being passed around, it was nothing more than a badly bundled heap of paper, parts of which would occasionally surface on the Internet. No one could have anticipated the small but devoted following this terrifying story would soon command. Starting with an odd assortment of marginalized youth — musicians, tattoo artists, programmers, strippers, environmentalists, and adrenaline junkies — the book eventually made its way into the hands of older generations, who not only found themselves in those strangely arranged pages but also discovered a way back into the lives of their estranged children.

Now, for the first time, this astonishing novel is made available in book form, complete with the original colored words, vertical footnotes, and newly added second and third appendices.

The story remains unchanged, focusing on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story — of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.

(My) Synopsis

House of Leaves is really formatted as an extended essay about a fictional documentary about a house-labyrinth, written by an old blind man named Zampanò who mysteriously died of “natural” causes, and whose essay was found by another man named Johnny Truant who comments on the essay and babbles on about his own life in extended footnotes – we watch as Johnny seems to grow more and more mentally unstable as he continues to read Zampanò’s work (all of which is commented on by “editors” in the footnotes).

The last paragraph of the official synopsis is referring to the contents of the fictional documentary (The Navidson Record) that Zampanò’s extended essay examines.

Did that make sense?

To clarify the narration:

(The Navidson Record < Zampanò < Johnny Truant < Editors) < Mark Z. Danielewski


**Be warned, this book is contains: sex, drugs, violence, death, and no answers (not to mention dead puppies and cats)**

Where do I even begin.

If I had to rate this book based on my appreciation for it alone, it would get all the stars. I can’t even begin to imagine writing something as intriguing and complex as this.

Now, I’ve heard people describe this as a horror novel and I would partially agree to the extent that one of the story lines reminded me of the beginnings of horror movies –the parts when you know something bad is going to happen and so every little thing that happens is regarded with apprehension and seems 10X scarier. But as a whole, I would classify this as an essay and psychological thriller.

Let’s begin with some pros and cons:


  • The page after the forward gave me chills and really set the tone for the rest of the book!
  • The relationship between form and content in this book is amazing! The phrase “House of Leaves” can be a reference to the labyrinth-house that Zampanò talks about and/or it can be a reference to the books itself since “leaves” can also refer to pages of a book. When reading “The Navidson Record” (the documentary records from the fictional house Zampanò studies), you are forced to almost navigate the pages like a labyrinth as you read footnotes that span for pages only to backtrack to continue reading the actual body text. Additionally the records of Navidson and the others from within the labyrinth of the house are formatted on the page to simulate the direction and disorientation experienced within the house.



  • The sheer amount of information we’re provided with is both overwhelming and intriguing. There is “The Navidson Record” with Johnny and editors’ footnotes, “Exhibits” that only contain instructions on what someone was intending on putting in the exhibits section, Appendix #1 with songs, poems, “bits”, and brainstorming from Zampanò, Appendix #2 with sketches, poems, photos, quotations, and more (the most intriguing being letters from Johnny’s childhood from his mother who is locked away in an psychiatric asylum), and more. I’m at a loss as to how (and if) everything is connected – the possibilities of some of my theories about the book excite me!
  • I’m so intrigued by Zampanò and Johnny – I wonder if (within the fictional realm of the book) they are even real or if one or both of them are a creation of Mrs. Truant’s imagination (…?)
  • Zampanò’s death at the beginning of the book is so simple yet so gripping that it completely sucked me into the story
  • The book is designed to end without answers – it provides you with all of this information and almost begs you do try and figure it all out – I can’t stop thinking about it and I know I’ll eventually read it again – once I let this settle in my mind
  • I love how I spent a lot of time reading every single page, looking up references, recognizing references to older literature (lots of references to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner), determining which references were real and which were fictional, and looking for coded messages
  • I loved finding the coded messages: throughout the book there appear to be random dots and dashes here and there which I think, all together, say something in Braille (Zampanò was blind!), there were acrostic messages, even the names of fictional references in the footnotes spelled backwards revealed a message! Although this book took a LONG time to get through, it was so worth it – I get, now, why this book has basically a cult following!
  • The book cover is so poetic – it looks simple at first with the dust jacket on, but just beneath the surface is a mess of information and intrigue



These cons aren’t universal, they’re just things that hindered my personal enjoyment of the book…

  • There were some passages that just droned on and on – although there could be hidden messages that I missed or just important information that I didn’t make connections with – it sometimes made my eyes glaze over. The worst were the passages that went into talking about physics – light, echos, speed, etc. – which is an area of expertise that I seriously lack and ended up skimming through!
  • With the fairly large number of important “characters” in this book, I kept getting mixed up between the backstories of Navidson, Tom, and Johnny which probably really hurt my ability to make connections and theories
  • I also have this as a pro, but I have a love-hate relationship with the ending of the book – while my theories about the book excite me, I still want some sort of consolation!

I’m so happy I mustered up the courage to pick up House of Leaves (despite how daunting it looks). There seriously needs to be a university course dedicated to it, there’s just so much going on! Like, why is the work “House” always written in blue – even if it’s not in English? Why is every reference to the Minotaur crossed out? How badly does this book suffer from unreliable narrator syndrome?

I’m just going to end my review here…my mind is still a mess of jumbled thoughts about this book. I’m sort of at a loss for words..

loss for words

I know I will never stop thinking about it though, it’s haunting really.


4.5/5 Stars



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