Reading Notes: House of Leaves

House of Leaves is a story about a movie featuring the Navidson family about a house bigger on the inside than on the outside (that also changes and adds subtracts things to itself) written by a man called Zampano but heavily footnoted and prefaced by Johnny Truant.

It’s strange to pick up a book tells you dramatically on its first page “This is not for you.”

Reading Notes: House of Leaves

The story leads in with Johnny Truant telling us, after the fact, how harrowing of an experience this all continues to be for him and reminiscing about what would have happened if he had never had a crazy landlord who kicked him out of his apartment (lucky for him, the landlord burned down the apartment shortly after), leading him to meet Zampano.

It’s pretty clear early on that Johnny Truant is an unreliable narrator, but I still really like his 3-page footnotes – he’s a character and I appreciate that. He tells interesting stories even though I don’t believe them to be 100% true. The most compelling parts of the story, of course, are about the house and the Navidson family who is recording their experience within it. Reading about their relationships and seeing their family change as the house changes is keeping me reading.

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The best passage I’ve run across so far (about 70 pages into the book itself and all the way through the second appendix) is about the relationship between Narcissus and Echo.

Myth makes Echo the subject of longing and desire. Physics makes Echo the subject of distance and design. Where emotion and reason are concerned both claims are accurate.

And where there is no Echo there is no description of space or love.

There is only silence.

In that same section about Echo, Narcissus says to Echo “May I die before I give you power over me (Emoriar, quam sit tibi copia nostri)” to which Echo cleverly responds “I give you power over me (Sit tibi copia nostri).” In a second exchange, Echo is asked “Chi dara fine al gran dolore (Who will put an end to this great sadness)?” and responds with “L’ore (The hours passing).”

I couldn’t stop talking about my theories about what Truant is, what the house is/means and it somehow inspired my best friend to read along with me. After he read the passages on Echo, he mused that sit tibi copia nostri is far better than saying ‘I love you’ because it’s more precise.

The more I read the book, the more that its themes layer. Echo is a great example of this. The book has a few small references to Echo very early on, then the above quoted text. A bit further in, Navidson explores a hallway that has appeared in the house with his recording equipment and a flashlight, I believe. As he gets to the end of the hallway, he notices that it is perfectly silent and when he comes to this realization, he hears a growl and realizes that he needs to find his way out. It is a voice that brings him back, his wife, he thinks, but it ends up being his daughter. The next day, they have the following exchange.

“Come play with me Daddy.”
Navidson lifts his daughter onto his lap.
“Okay. What do you want to play?”
“I don’t know,” she shrugs. “Always.”
“What’s always?”
But before she can answer, he starts tickling her around the neck and Daisy dissolves into bursts of delight.

Despite the tremendous amount of material generated by Exploration A, no one has ever commented on the game Daisy wants to play with her father, perhaps because everyone assumes it is either a request “to play always” or just a childish neologism.

Then again, “always” slightly mispronounces “hallways.”
It also echoes it.

In the appendix of letters written by Truant’s mother while she was committed until she died, she wrote to him in Old English, Latin, Greek, French and Spanish. One of the sentences she repeated most (in both Latin and English) is “Non sum qualis eram,” meaning I am not what I used to be.

In the middle of the Navidson-exploring-the-hallway section, Johnny Truant has another one of his 3-page footnotes where it seems like he is also being hunted/pursued by the same growl and darkness that Navidson encountered. He ends his encounter with a strange nonsensical sentence: “Known some call is air am.” This is the phonetically written out version of “non sum qualis eram.”

Because of the strong focus on mythologies, I’m hoping that the house is the literal manifestation of the minotaur and the labyrinth myth, or even better, a manifestation of hell wherein Navidson has to get past the minotaur to get to the Seventh Circle (as posited by Dante in the Inferno).

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