My Favourite Horror Novel
Much like those who douse themselves in the world of film, asking a horror author/reader their favourite tome from the genre is not unlike subjecting them to a particularly nasty Jigsaw trap. Arranged in a neat row, with shotguns aimed squarely at their heads, are your closest family and friends, and you have to choose which of them are to remain intact, and which will resemble visceral pizza upon the wall.
Disgusting analogies aside, the temptation is to choose the closest to the genre. Many would choose a book by Stephen King or Clive Barker or would go back to the old age of chills from HP Lovecraft and MR James. These familiar fearmongers have vast catalogues that contain all sorts of terror and horridness, and yet they also present a further Sophie’s Choice in whittling it down further.
Therefore, I choose to have all my close friends and family blasted in a literary sense (I promise this is the end of that) and instead choose a one-off that survives by virtue of being quite unlike anything the above have shown before.
That is House of Leaves, by Mark Z Danielewski.
To label House of Leaves as horror is to place a mantle on a book that ferociously rejects such notions. To an extent, it isn’t even a book, more a prose puzzle that challenges the reader as well as luring them deeper and deeper into its complex corners, before you even realise how lost you are.
It tells the story of the rather standard Navidson Family. Except, it doesn’t, as they are the subject of a documentary studied by the mysterious Zampano. Except, it also is not quite that, being a narrative told by unreliable narrator Johnny Truant.
And then you have the footnotes. And the footnotes for the footnotes. And the footnotes for the footnotes for the footnotes for the footnotes… (Repeat ad nausea, spelling error made on purpose)
The real horror behind House of Leaves is not the core narrative of a house that, architecturally, is wrong – with corridors stretching far beyond the exterior parameters, and doors leading to vast, dark labyrinths – but the maddening effect it has on those who delve into it. This includes the reader, who over time will find themselves flipping back and forth the book, trying to piece together the foreshadowed clues that were hinted at before, during, and after the current page you are reading.
Danielewski not only plays with narrative but also format. The footnotes eventually crawl over the page, appearing atop, beside, and even as a window within the main text. Different fonts and colours are used to highlight certain words and phrases, and the whole thing does its best to pickle your brain.
Brilliantly, Danielewski himself has denied the book is horror, instead calling it a love story. Between husband and wife, mother and son, and whoever you find yourself pulling closer to you when you next see them. It is a wonder of fiction and one that has inspired me in countless works since. With its fine use of tropes such as Alien Geometries and Unreliable Narrators, House of Leaves is a horror tome that will not only challenge you but also remain with you.
Whether you want it to or not.
From the wilds of deepest Buckinghamshire, Oli Jacobs has been self-publishing his esoteric brand of writing since 2012 to moderate acknowledgement. With his fingers more likely tapping out a mix of Comedy and Horror, he is constantly percolating ideas within his Escher-like brain. When not writing, he can be found staring into the void and enjoying time with his wife and dog.
You can find out more about Oli via his official website www.olijacobsauthor.wordpress.com
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Great shout – a unique book.