Books | Cheat's Guide to House of Leaves

This week: Dangerously self-referential post-modern confusion from Mark Z. Danielewski. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.


Will Navidson: A photojournalist. Moves into a new house with his family and films everything. Things start to get a bit weird.

Zampano: A blind academic. He wrote a thesis on The Navidson Record. Which is odd, as there’s no way he could have seen the film.

The Minotaur: does not exist.


The Navidsons have recently moved into a new house in Virginia. One day, they find that a small closet has appeared out of nowhere, and on further investigation, that the inside of the house is approximately 1⁄4 of an inch larger than the outside. Then the labyrinth appears. Wait, that’s not what House of Leaves is about. The Navidson Record is a film that has provoked much debate among academics. A blind old man called Zampano has written a thesis on it, which makes up the novel*. However, no-one else can find any evidence that the film ever actually existed. As you can imagine, this book is just a little bit com- plicated.

It’s rather hard to pin a genre on. Some go for horror, ro- mance, or a satire of overly-complex and ineffectual academic criticism. Most simply go for “what?”

* It sends you off on tangents like this, with footnotes that go on for several pages just listing House of Leaves things like the materials the house is definitely not made of. This, in turn, is designed to leave the reader feeling several things: disorientation, isolation, confinement, detachment.

The word ‘house’ is always displaced. It’s kinda creepy. The book is the house. For one thing, ‘leaves’ can also mean pages. What’s more, sometimes when characters do things like walking down stairs, the text starts to mimic their actions. When they’re lost in the maze, the formatting gets really weird and turns the page itself into a labyrinth. But at the end, Navidson burns a copy of House of Leaves, so the book is destroyed? I have no idea. I should have written about The Very Hungry Caterpillar or something.

Adam Button

Photo: Property of

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