Scariest Books You’ve (Probably) Never Read – ‘House of Leaves’


One of the things about horror stories is that you find yourself in a black-and-white world. It’s easy to distinguish one thing from another in that little world, no doubt. There’s no issue finding out who is the human and who is the ghoul that terrorizes them. The term “ghoul” is used vaguely here – it can be anything, sentient or not.

However, when it comes to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the horror in the novel takes on a different form or forms. Sure, keep in mind at the basis of it all is the house in the film-within-the-story The Navidson Record. This house, for some inexplicable reason, has an interior that constantly shifts and changes, exceeding it’s outer dimensions by extreme lengths. Unsettling? Yes. Terrifying? Absolutely. Danielewski’s description of this film (which the narrator, Johnny Truant, cannot find to have ever existed) is pretty good, establishing it as a film done in the “found footage” style. If it were to ever become a legitimate film, there would be no question that it would be a hit.

However, as previously mentioned, Truant can never find any evidence that this film, the characters, or the interviews relating to the story ever existed; as far as he’s concerned the entire setup was written by a blind recluse named Zampanò. However, the story itself seems to have an unsettling effect on Truant, who is a lively member in the drug culture of the 90s’ Los Angeles drug scene. As the book progresses, Truant intersperses his commentary on the story with his escapades through the LA party scene during his reading of the Navidson story. He begins to feel watched, hunted by some unnameable creature that he cannot see. He suspects this same creature was one Zampanò was aware of. However, as an unreliable editor, as previously mentioned it’s unsure whether this is a matter of his questionable mental health or his rampant drug use.

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Along with all of that, the reader is free to speculate if the horror is legitimate in regards to Truant or if his drug use is affecting his narrative. More so, one wonders if it isn’t his questionable mental state – his mother was committed when he was a boy, something we find out later on in the story. Whatever it is, the Navidson story affects Truant profoundly, in a way that ultimately leads to the deterioration of his sanity as well as his health.

When it comes to the film, The Navidson Story, that’s another aspect that adds to the horror of the story. Granted, there’s the supernatural element (shifting house with impossible dimensions). However, there’s the human element that comes into play. There’s the main protagonist, Will Navidson, an award-winning photographer who moves his family to the Virginia countryside to try and mend their family life. His partner, Karen Green, a former fashion model who is no stranger to adultery (at one point she is caught on camera kissing one of the crew members who explores the growing interior of the house), and their two kids, Chad and Daisy, are also impacted greatly by the increasing vastness inside the house.

The human aspect in some ways makes their tale a little more unnerving than the house or Truant’s tale. Readers will see how the house’s unnatural dimensions ultimately contribute to the steady deterioration of their family life, and one wonders if they’ll ever be a whole family unit again. Of course, to find out the answer to that, would be to read the novel, which is highly recommended to all.