Study Guide

House of Leaves

by Mark Z. Danielewski

House of Leaves Themes

Themes

Whilst the central narrative of House of Leaves is concerned with the unknowable and its effect upon contemporary society, the complex construction of the novel as a whole calls into question the possibility of ever fully knowing anything at all. To consider this theme, Danielewski uses several narrative layers through which the story of the Navidson family is filtered, and which ensure that the reader is never able to achieve even the illusion of direct access to the events on Ash Tree Lane. The novel itself is divided into nine distinct sections that include a list of exhibits, three Appendices, and a main body of text entitled "The Navidson Record." As its contents imply, the novel at first purports to be a factual account of an actual event, with evidence to support its claims. However, the reader soon discovers that "The Navidson Record" itself is a documentary film of what occurred in Navidson's house, and that the main text of the novel is a critical analysis of that film. Thus the reader is immediately twice removed from the narrated events: House of Leaves provides only a textual representation ("The Navidson Record") of a visual representation (the film of the same name) of those events themselves. It might perhaps take little effort to come to terms with this distancing of supposed reality were it not for the fact that the novel never makes clear whether it considers the story of Will Navidson and his family to be factual or fictional.

The analysis of Navidson's film is written by a man known only as Zampano, and doubt is immediately cast upon the text's authenticity when we learn that Zampano is blind and could therefore have never seen the film he discusses, assuming that it does exist. Nevertheless, Zampano repeatedly refers to the film as though he has seen it and as though it were real; he cites interviews with the protagonists, parodies on Home Improvement, and a wealth of secondary academic criticism from fields as varied as psychology, architecture, film studies and geology to support his argument. Indeed, the text differs from an authentic critical exegesis only in the way that it regularly describes the action of the film rather than analyzing it. Johnny Truant comments upon this problem in...

(The entire section is 917 words.)