Review: House of Leaves

IN WHICH spoilers abound but no plot points are revealed.

House of Leaves is a touchstone of modern ergodic literature. If you have not read it, and the book's blurb interests you, do not read this review. Few if any plot points are spoiled, but the topic of the review is the main structure of book, and how it produces its effects in the reader. Having any preconception of how the book might work in you can diminish the effect of the book.

The Review Proper

As I see it, the book's narrative has three main points of entry for the reader:

  1. A traditional horror story.
  2. A gnostic appeal to the thrill of discovering sekrit knowlege.
  3. Ergodic effects.

Of real interest to us is #3, the book's ergodic effects. House of Leaves succeeds at providing narrative immersion despite throwing multiple font styles, absurd page layouts, multiple authorial voices, and copious (sometimes misnumbered) footnotes at the reader.1

A real problem with ergodic literature (and fictional hypertext in general) can be that the ergodic contortions hinder narrative immersion. House of Leaves has found, inherent to its narrative, one way of working around this. Mark Danielewski uses ergodic tricks to simulate for the reader the thrill of original research.

Original research is tedious. It can be, at best, hours or days before new insights are gained that forward the narrative the researcher is attempting to unearth. The difficulty of the ergodic stylings Danielewski employs, while greater for a reader than a far more familiar linear narrative, is far less than the difficulty encountered in original research.2

While this is certainly not the only way that ergodicity might facilitate narrative immersion, it is a compelling one. I am surprised I have not yet seen this application of ergodicity outside of this novel.

  1. It should be noted that much of the book discusses film and photography of the house in question, bringing additional media into a traditional tome.

  2. This simulation of research also contributes to the gnostic appeal of discovering sekrit knowlege. If it were easy to discover, it wouldn't be sekrit, would it?