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Shine through the Paper
Once William Faulkner pestered the printing house, which was entrusted with the publishing of his book "The Sound and the Fury" with his paradoxical and very tiring ideas. A novel in which a closed group of heroes has the same names, a novel illustrating the flow of consciousness of genius and the idiot's thinking system, a novel filled with references to the past in the midst of dialogues and actions seemed to the author not sufficiently complex. Faulkner wanted the text to come into play with the reader: it was typed in different fonts and different colors, scattered across the page and it quoted Shakespeare. But the publishing business of the early XX century cooled his ardor since postmodernism had not captured all spheres of society's life yet.
So, we read "The Sound and the Fury" in its even, black and white version. And even without the problem of gender relations of names and verbs in some translations. But today you will not surprise anyone with such techniques, moreover, the text, typed in different fonts, turned upside down, mirrored in a mirror, with a one word on the page and so on may not only be irritating, but it will cause sadness for tired intellectuals of the world on the basis of the fact that "attempts to outdo Joyce" always look sad.
But let it be so, is not this the time to overthrow the gods?
Yes, "House of Leaves" is one of the most fanciful novels of the decade. Its main attraction is some kind of human: before all read a chapter, they dashed to praise the modernist layout, different sets and other artistic techniques outside the text field. As a city legend, the book is accompanied by a story that at the time of printing the author settled near the publisher and controlled the layout process. This alone has organized half of all the glory for the novel – beautiful books are much easier to survive in this world.
But "House of Leaves" is not an attempt to outdo Joyce, not at all. If "Ulysses" is an attempt to disassemble all the literature as a whole, then "House" is rather a spit in book publishing as such. The idea of destroying the structure and plane of the text is far from new – here you can recall Milorad Pavić and, God forbid, Foer, if someone considers his texts as literature. Although, rather, Danielewski tried to turn the book not just into a printed product, but into an object that you want to possess, that does not work outside the limits of paper, breaking the world, rapidly turning into a figure. Like "pasted" square inserts in the text are not read in the mirror, namely that they "shine" through the paper.
Mark Danielewski was born in 1965 in New York. His father, the Pole by birth, who survived the German labor camp during World War II, is now an American filmmaker. The younger sister of Mark Anna is a musician, and even released an album (something like a soundtrack) for the "House of Leaves". Because of his father's work, the family often moved – by the age of 10, Mark lived in 6 different countries. Despite the cinematic environment, he enters the Yale University, where he studies English literature, although, to tell the truth, then he attends courses at the School of Cinematographic Art in Los Angeles.
It is not really a horror book. But what lies at the heart of the forcing fear if you do not hear disturbing music? Darkness and something incomprehensible. And also cries for help and SOS signals coded in the lines. True, the reader is not always so lucky, translators have completely killed some things: if the book consists of riddles, then to destroy one of the most beautiful ones, simply throwing it into a footnote like "in the original text, the first letters compose the phrase ..." – it is simply unforgivable.
As the novel itself says, puzzles are the source of the anguish of pleasure. And, it seems, there is some great essence in this, and the author tries to turn the book into a source of pleasure. Like a game or a dark door to another world. Therefore, it seems that this is a story of a nightmare. The nightmare is always somewhere near the old houses, dark corridors, watered children and heavily drinking workers of tattoo parlors. Such stories, however, rarely become good literature.
The narrative consists of three main parts of the plot. It all begins with a photographer, like all the problems of our time. Will Navidson is a military photographer, Pulitzer Prize winner, in general, a living classic, professional and adventurer. Here, by the way, the cinematographic education of the author himself shines through: he spells out the life of his hero with such accuracy, talks with such pedantry about photography, films, the quality of shooting that you do not feel the falseness that appears in the movements of actors depicting "great photographers" in the movies of our time. And, probably, this is the only honest part of the whole work.
Saving his divorcing marriage, Will buys a house in the Virginia back of beyond, where he moves with his wife, former model Karen and two children. In order not to get bored without work, cameras are installed throughout the house, and he himself constantly shoots the American pastoral of his life. And so it would all remain a pretty art project of human life if one day a new door did not appear in the bedroom of the couple. The door that was not there yesterday, a pantry or a closet, a meter and a half, not leading anywhere and filled with nothing. A piece of unremarkable emptiness, except the very fact that it was not here and should not be.
And all begins.
Of course, no one ignored the unauthorized redevelopment. Navidson begins to measure the space of the house, checking the plans, trying to find an explanation, feeling an understatement and a riddle. He calls his brother, a professional builder to help in the war against the blueprints. But the results of this running are always the same: the house outside is less than inside.
Immovable space of wood and stone begins to come apart at the seams from the chapter to the chapter. And then the Corridor appears. Incomprehensible, gray and dark, cold, resting on the hall with a ladder leading into the void. Expanding and narrowing, with an unknown growling observer out of the darkness. Not existing anywhere except in the inner space of the house.
Naturally, the expedition goes to the corridor, everything is carefully documented, tasted, measured, photographed. Then the film is mounted, and then – its improved version. The film, planned as a tape about family life, about the growing up of children and the development of relationship, became an astonishing, mystical documentary, known as the "Navidson's Film".
At Least That Is What Zampanò Says
Zampanò is the second layer of the novel. A blind old man (this fact is also a big welcome to lovers of classics), who is reading a manuscript to young stenographers. Zampanò creates a multi-page scientific study with an inconceivable amount of references to third-party publications, interviews, books and events. In the work, we also learn the psychological features of the relationship between the characters of the film, and what Stephen King thinks about the Navidson's film.
Literally every judgment is supported by a reference to the original source – praise to the scientific text system. The only problem is that none of this source exists outside the dark world of Zampanò: not a single phrase was uttered, and no one has seen the film, of course.
The manuscript of Zampanò is a collection of false quotations from fictitious books. Books invented with such maniacal care that it scares more than a story with a door that emerges from nowhere in the middle of the bedroom. Zampanò dies without uttering a word from the pages of the novel, disappears in the dark with all the cats living in the courtyard of his house.
The manuscript is found by a young man named Johnny Truant. He is just over 20, he has a best friend Lude, a lousy job in a tattoo parlor and a modest flat near the apartments of the deceased old man. He is in love with a stripper and, in general, is normal. After investigating the death of a neighbor, Lude and Johnny break into his apartment, where they find a huge folder with documents. Lude remains indifferent to the heap of papers, and Truant takes the manuscript with him. So the study of the film and the history of Will Navidson receives a co-author and commentator.
And here the annotations, with which the cover of the novel is painted, appear in front of us as a horde of spoilers. The innumerable threats of the coming madness of anyone who reads even to the middle drown quiet phrases from the mouth of Truant that he is starting to go crazy. We miss the moment when Johnny stops washing, leaving the house and normally falling asleep and waking up. He is included in the detective story of the parsing of the deceased's papers, and, as it often happens in the literature, this detective story eclipses and transforms his own life.
In an attempt to understand what kind of text is in front of him, Truant begins to look for the girls who worked as readers and stenographers of Zampanò. All of them are inestimably beautiful, intelligent, well-read, speak living and dead languages, can burn Rome to ashes, raze the world to the ground, and, perhaps, they will even do it. All of them carry out Truant in the labyrinth of the manuscript, translate quotations and decode references to primary sources. They all drink with him, take drugs and disappear in the morning without relieving the feeling of a growing nightmare and total loneliness.
Beyond the Darkness
In fact, nothing happens, Johnny begins to plunge into himself, more and more often begins to describe the memories of his childhood, we learn how his father died and that the mother was in a psychiatric hospital, and he himself begins to feel the darkness.
Darkness appears in the book on a par with other heroes. Darkness comes to life in the house of Navidson, darkness is an integral part of Zampano's life. Darkness penetrates to Truant. It comes to life in the corridor of the salon, bites him and pushes him from the stairs, looks at him with unblinking eyes without apples of the eye. It drives him out into the apartment and closes the doors tightly. It comes in dreams and takes away peace. Truant tries to cope with the growing neurosis, getting drunk and meeting new girls, but screams in a dream again and again.
Because darkness is the primordial beginning of every person, it is waiting for us in the end.
Scars are a dimmed pain about survival, they are taken against the will and are expressed in the language of mutilation.
The Book About Liars and for Liars
The formative style of Danielewski in some places reminds Oscar Wilde’s one with his three-page enumeration of minerals, which do not illustrate anything, except the education of the author himself. These lists of ships are unlikely to be read up to half, but those who will read it in their entirety – well, they are free to choose what to waste their holy time for. The author does not develop a form, he mocks it. He creates a huge, thousand-pages illusion of truth, reliability and quality, although the essence lies in the fact that all his narrators lie. Zampanò, this weary graduate student, filled his dissertation with nonexistent quotes from fictitious sources in order to put in order his evidence line. However, the old man does not prove anything to us, he just talks about something. A blind old man, who wrote a huge study about the film.
This is a book about liars and for liars. Just the rules of the game are revealed immediately: all links are false, the narrator cannot be trusted, and indeed, what kind of truth can be said when it comes to fiction. So all that has been said about the "House of Leaves" will be a lie, and why read reviews of books, after all, they are written by people who do not understand anything in life, if not by complete idiots at all? Therefore, everything we say about this book is a lie. Because to talk about a chaotic narrative trying to find psychoanalytic roots is just as pathetic as to try to interest the interlocutor with a story about one’s magic dream.
In fact, a decent reader has absolutely no reason to read this book. Reading it is comparable to molecular cuisine – a kind of perversion on the theme of food, created in order to develop a sense of gourmet. Literary experiment, encrypted messages, oversaturation of author's erudition and horizons – some master class on how to become a writer. All you have to do is walk around in circles of the narrative: from Navidson's house to Zampanò 's analytical remarks, after which you stop believing anyone else, start to be skeptical about the unshakable authority of the printed word and loud names. In the most impressionable cases, you stop turning off the light in your room for the night.
The main task of the book is that everyone could pass his or her labyrinth. To make a phrase from a heap of names of photographers or flick through them without reading. To sympathize with Truant or to be irritated by his inconsistency, to perceive him as the main character or to focus on the Navidsons. Each your decision, in the end, will make your own reading.
You may not read "Pelican Poems" or letters from a madhouse at all. But, violating the rules of the modern text system, Danielewski keeps in suspense until the last pages, saving the answer to the main question until the end of the text. To get to the bottom, you have to return to the abandoned house of Navidson, you have to go into that corridor behind three locks, step into your own nightmare. See how the book you read burns on its own in the hands of Will Navidson – every previous page burns to illuminate the continuation. A dramatic moment, like a hero waiting to die, finishes reading the book you hold in your hands before you.
If you do not feel anything, it does not mean that you are safe and sound.
All this time you are constantly asked one question: are you afraid of the dark?
This is the most confusing, mysterious, dark and incomprehensible story – but still about love. And how it would be easier to live if people could talk to each other. Here is one more spoiler to you, but you should have already gotten used to them. Indeed, in fact.
It is not for you.