Last updated January 5, 19102.

House of Leaves

Before I can tell you about this book I have to tell you about another one -- Neal Stephenson's excellent cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash.

Snow Crash describes how a series of symbols, a string of characters, a long line of ones and zeros, bits of information, can be incredibly destructive to a computer. That is, a malicious program can violate a computer by showing it certain combinations of mere "words."

Then Stephenson postulates that certain bits of information, properly grouped, can have a similar effect on the human mind. For example, a man can view a picture, or hear certain sounds, taste/smell/touch certain things and be completely changed -- instead of merely observing information, he is affected by them, commanded by them.

This is hardly a novel idea. "Magic words" from childhood fairy tales, for example, operate on this principle. So too does a sappy movie, extracting tears from certain viewers despite knowing that the characters and events portrayed are entirely fictitious.

Likewise, certain sounds and scents create a similar response. Perhaps the unique scent of a former lover, or the sudden sound of a voice remarkably similar to that belonging to a friend long in the grave -- these bits of information can affect one directly, like a virus or a command.

They aren't just words, or pictures, scents, and sounds. They are not just data. Power Word Kill is real, provided the listener is able to understand.

It is important to keep this idea in mind when one considers House of Leaves.

House is a powerfully written novel by Mark Z. Danielewski. The first half of House is absolutely terrifying, although not from a Stephen King or horror genre point of view. In fact, the mere events described are not frightening at all. (Nor should they be.)

The first half of the House is terrifying in the Snow Crash sort of way. It is a colossal enclosure of words that commands the reader. It entombs the reader in a solid fortress built by the English language, as does Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita or William Shakespeare's Hamlet -- the reader is captured by words the way the listener of the second movement of Ludwid van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is driven by the sounds.

The first half of House of Leaves is commanding and dangerous; it should not be read whimsically by anyone capable of being consumed by information.

However, there are cracks in second half of the House -- despite Danielewski, Zampano, and Mr. Truant's best efforts, light manages to shine through the darkness. The reader catches the "man behind the curtain." The walls drop, and the reader, now able to see the labryinth as a whole, manages to escape.

Nevertheless, House of Leaves is a remarkably successful and beautiful novel -- a majestic estate in a sea of tract houses.