Wednesday, May 27, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Books That Hooked Me (Part 5)


Another book that has seriously influenced my writing style is Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves. I was working in Ottakar's, looking after the SF/Fantasy/Horror section, and there was this awkward book that was just huge. Not just a thick book, but in all dimensions. There was the usual debate over whether it should be shelved in Horror or in General Fiction, but as there was supposedly an element of weirdness it usually ended up in my department on the Horror shelves.

I remember flicking through it and thinking "WHAT?"

It's in the inside of House of Leaves that really makes it stand out as being something different. The book itself is a book-within-a-book. It tells of Johnny Truant, who is reading the manuscript of an academic study of a documentary film called The Navidson Record that he found in the apartment of a recently deceased elderly man.

The Navidson Record is a film about a family living in a house whose interior dimensions do not match the exterior. The dimensions change, and then a door appears in a wall that leads into an impossible hallway... which leads to a labyrinth, and a hall, and an impossibly deep chamber down a spiral staircase, and...

Well. It's a bit crazy. As you read Johnny reading the Navidson Record, it's kinda like watching The Blair Witch Project. As close to a found footage movie as you can get in a book. Especially as you can't entirely trust Truant's account.

But it's the layout that makes it special.

Each character's section is written in a different typeface so you can tell which section is which. As the family investigates further into the anomalous room, the more bizarre the layout of the book.

There are weird sidebars of nouns, spiralling passages, footnotes, and pages with single words spinning in the void.

Out of curiosity I ended up buying it, and read it about about a week. It was actually seriously unsettling and left me looking at the walls of our house with a new level of uncertainty.

Seriously cool.

I did some internet research and discovered that there was a different edition of the book - the American edition of it was in colour! Nothing major, but to add to the weird typography, every instance of the word "house" was in blue, and there were another couple of words like that in there too...

In addition to that, Mark Z. Danielewski's sister, who records under the name Poe, recorded an album called Haunted, inspired by House of Leaves. The album has tracks that directly relate to the book, including 5 1/2 minute Hallway, something they call the mysterious new hall that appears in the Navidson Record. Never heard any Poe before, and I took a chance. What a brilliant album! Well worth checking out, and cleverly incorporates found recordings of Poe's (and Mark's) father, who notoriously wasn't very supportive of his creative efforts. Hence the book's dedication - "This is Not for You".

Again, though, I have to confess I didn't feel the same connection, intrigue and excitement with the follow-up book Only Revolutions. Two parallel narratives telling the same story from two points of view - only they're usually in the same place. And you read one narrative one way, then flip the book and read the other upside down. It's recommended you flip every ten pages...

Unfortunately, it kinda read like a shopping list.

Not the last of the experimental books I dipped into - I checked out the rather good Raw Shark Tests by Steven Hall (say the title quick and you'll get it), and this kinda peaked with "S." by Doug Dorst and J J Abrams, where you read a book but also read the storyline of two people checking the book out from a library and communicating by writing in the margins - and tucking in postcards and newspaper clippings that are presented as removable props.

It's the sort of thing I really want to do with an RPG...

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