Turns out, House of Leaves is a very scary book. More along the lines of Shirley Jackson than Stephen King so far, but definitely a page turner.
Even the footnotes are page turners.
I've decided to look at the book as having four narrators or four narrations--the movie maker, the writer, the reader/transcriber and the editors--Navidson, the movie maker is the heart of the book; Zampano, the writer who describes the movie in the main text of the book; Johnny Truant, the reader/transcriber describes what happens to him while he reads and footnotes Zampano's book; while the editors have the final say on the book in their own footnotes.
I suspect that by the end of the book, I'll have to add a fifth narrative, my own.
But will I go as mad from reading Zampano's book as Johnny Truant is obviously going?
Truant's footnotes show him clearly losing his own grip on reality as he reads Zampano's book. In the opening sections, Truant was given to flights of language but by the middle of the book his flights have begun to reveal his own paranoia. By page 313 he has lapsed into near catatonia, losing much of his grip on reality. He shows up to work one day, aware that he is late but unaware that he has not been seen by his employer or his co-workers for over three weeks. What's happened to him that he has lost so much of his own life/memory?
He's become lost in Zampano's manuscript.
Meanwhile, Zampano's manuscript has begun to lose itself as it follows Navidson into the labyrinth found within the new family home. Navidson brings several explorer friends of his on board, asking them to search through the maze of hallways he has discovered within the walls of the house. This maze leads to a giant spiral staircase descending into the earth farther than any of their portable lights can illuminate. Each time they encounter the staircase it is longer and wider than it was the time before. Ultimately, it takes them thirteen hours to descend it.
After a few days in the maze, things go very wrong for the explorers. When the try to retreat upwards, they find the staircase has retracted--they are able to climb up in less than an hour.
Zampano's footnotes suggest that the stair case adapts to the mental state of those climbing or descending it. If you've never seen it before and are afraid of it, then it will be extremely long. However, once it has become familiar, the distance it covers can be transversed in a few minutes.
There is this one passage, rendered wonderful by a footnote. Zampano is describing the part of the Navidson film that shows what happens to the party exploring the labyrinth:
The penultimate clip finds Jed huddled next to Wax in a very small room. Wax is silent, Jed exhausted. It is remarkable how faced with his own death, Jed still refuses to leave his friend. He tells the camera he will go o further, even though the growl seems to be closing in around them.
In the final shot, Jed focuses the camera on the door. Something is on the other side, hammering against it, over and over again. Whatever comes for those who are never seen again has come from (198) him, and Jed can do nothing but focus the camera on the hinges as the door slowly begins to give way.
(198) Typo. Should read *for*.
I think this is an amazing chapter ending. On one level, it's a classic, Lovecraft, horror story ending. "There's a monster outside the door about to break in. This is the last journal entry I will ever write!" In the uncorrected version, whatever it is that is coming for Jed and Wax has come from their own minds, their own fear. It comes from them. Then we get the correct version, it's something outside of them that has come for them not from them. Does that knowledge relieve any of our own tension? When we're doomed, what difference does it make to know where our doom comes from?
The book is becoming a very tense read.
And fun, oh my, is it fun.
In the labyrinth section the book itself begins to expand and contract. There are pages where we only find writing at the bottom of the page (the bottom of the staircase?), others were their is writing only at the top. As the men trying to rescue the explorers find the spiral stairway expanding, the text begins to expand as phrases, then words and finally letters stretch across pages, single letters in a vast field of white echoing the men lost in a vast cavern of darkness. (See the picture above.)
All of which, still fits the central metaphor I started with when I began reading the book that the house is itself a book. The exploration of a difficult book, which House of Leaves is not by the way, takes much longer when it is unfamiliar. Once you're familiar with it, going through it takes much less time and is much easier to do. That happens with House of Leaves as the reader whips through pages with only a handful of words on each.
I so wish I was still in graduate school; I'd love to write a thesis on this book.
And I can't wait to find out what happens!