House of Leaves
It took me ages to finish this because the book was too heavy to bring on the train where I do most of my reading, but I want to tell you about one of the strangest books I have ever read. House of Leaves. It is not at all clear which genre this book falls into; at first it paints itself as a typical haunted house style horror novel, but it quickly falls into meta fiction. There are several levels of different story:
Level 1 is that there was a film called The Navidson Record which presented itself as a documentary of this man finding the inside of his house just keeps growing into this horrific labyrinth. It was unclear whether it was meant to be fiction or not.
Level 2 is an academic essay, also called The Navidson Record, about the film. It was full of lots of references to other papers and articles in the footnotes. The essay is written by a blind old man called Zampano and although it was formal in tone, it was written on whatever he had around; scraps of paper and the backs of cigarette packets.
Level 3 is a trainspotting-esque character named Johnny Truant finding Zampano's essay The Navidson Record and having his life slowly get more consumed with his obsession with the work. As far as he can tell, the film which the essay is about never actually existed and all of the references are just made up. He adds his own footnotes to the essay with long rambling stories about tattoos, drug use and women he has been with.
Level 4 is the unnamed editor of the book compiling everything together with occasionally observations.
On all levels of the story we have similar themes mirror each other. All of the strands show a descent into madness which the book makes clear with the oddest formatting I've ever seen. I don't want to reveal too much, but here is a sample page where some of the characters have entered a labyrinth:
The page itself has become a maze. The footnotes would send you backwards and forwards throughout the whole chapter, some forwards, some upside down etc. Notice those squares of text near the middle of each page; that was a footnote that ran for a good dozen pages that read through the middle of paper as though you were digging down. Sometimes you would find meaningless lists, some of which had secret codes in them. More on that below.
At another part of the book there was a small footnote explaining that if you wanted to find more of the context of a particular passage then you should read the letters from Johnny's mother to him in one of the many appendices. This innocent footnote leads you to over 50 pages of psychosis inducing letters which culminate in these less than lucid monstrosities:
However what cemented my love for this strange book was the realisation that there were lots of codes and hidden messages throughout it. A student had recommended it to me and so I took it out of the school library after him. Inside the pages were pieces of paper which a couple of his notes working out some of the codes. Considering it was a book almost entirely told through footnotes this felt strangely fitting, like there was the 5th Level to the commentary. I noticed that in one of the codes he had worked out (taking the first letter from each word in a letter gave a message) actually had a second hidden message within it. If you put together all of the erroneous capital letters you got a second message. As a footnote to his work I added this; thus making it 6 levels deep. In a way I hope this copy in the school Library continues to grow over the years.
So if the idea of having to use several fingers to keep your place on a few different pages while you turn the book upside down to read your fourth nested footnote sounds like fun then House of Leaves is for you. Good luck staying sane.