First off, I have to say I have not yet finished the book. In fact, I’m probably closer to a third complete, so in no way is this commentary a definitive thing or a retrospective overview.
Possible spoilers. I don’t even know the ending myself, though, so it can’t be that bad.
But, some thoughts while I journey through the experience:
I definitely advise you pick up a printed copy of the book, because it does contain a lot of very specifically placed typography and I’m not sure how ebooks deal with that sort of thing. At the very least, get a PDF which holds each page as an image and therefore very close to the author’s original intent.
As it is a horror novel, typography lends itself well to inducing horror: margins that aren’t quite vertical make things feel uneasy, for instance. It’s subtle, but it trips your mind just a little bit. Sentence / line length is varied throughout the book by incorporating other page elements (text boxes or blank areas within the page are sometimes just there) which really has an effect or reading speed and can change how you read certain things. This is effective as a tool since a lot of the book is a commentary on spatial awareness and the sheer relativity of everything to the human mind. I have no doubts these parallels are intended.
There are definite patterns in things. When people are in certain areas, some things are added or removed or changed or in a different direction altogether. Sometimes the additional text boxes in the middle of the text slowly grow from page to page which displaces the story into ever decreasing space, a sort of typographic closing in, just as the monster draws closer to the characters. It’s a typographic claustrophobia, really. And I’m not sure if it’s just me as someone who notices these things, but it’s actually fairly effective. As you decrease space, the lines get shorter and therefore your eyes are moving faster and more fervently from line to line.
There are several authors, so to speak. It’s sort of a traveling document that was penned by an old man, reviewed by drug using young man and finally found by the editors, who we’re lead to believe assembled the very novel you’re reading. Since each layer adds footnotes to things (and goodness, half the book is footnotes) it sort of weaves the various commentaries in and through each other, since although we read them simultaneously, we know they have a certain chronology applied to them as the document is passed from hand to hand. Each author uses a different typeface, which is handy for intuitively separating things. I’m not a huge fan of either Times nor Courier for body text, but it works, I suppose.
Architecture / Psychology
Of course, the house itself is questioned. I appreciate the multi-layered authoring approach because we see not just a horror novel and left to quizzically rationalize it ourselves, but instead we read the notes of the old man who saw the tapes of the event and rationalizes it to himself, drawing on a near infinite number of sources and further research. In this way, we see not only the event but also what the true author wants us to draw from that event. It’s unique, certainly, because so rarely do we get to see what the authors are trying to pen into the story, whereas now the story is the description of the underlying story, which I actually really appreciate. It’s also a subtle way of effecting the reader’s emotions: since the reader would most likely be rationalizing it on a superficial level, by writing to that level directly it can also tug the reader a bit, but not enough to make the reader jump out of that level again (which would ruin the immersiveness) and so creates a sort of horror because it can effect the reader’s conscious mind itself, which ultimately is our last stand of rationality, the very thing the book comments on.
The house shifts and moves and they briefly go into an explanation that it does so in a pattern relative to the occupant’s mind – that is, it becomes what they think. The staircase is endlessly down on the first trip because they aren’t sure if there even is a bottom, and yet the second group (who do know there is a bottom) reaches it in a matter of minutes. This is covered in a lot of science fiction stories (Michael Crichton‘s Sphere comes to mind) and ultimately is a fantastic way of not actually explaining anything at all. I do appreciate the quotes pulled in from authors both real and imagined with explanation, questioning whether spaces not observed are inherently one thing or another until they are in fact explored (again, simply narrating the things the reader would be justifying themselves anyway) which brings open ended questions that no one can answer (which thus adds to the mystery and chaos).
It is interesting the results the house has on the explorers, and how they deal with them. It’s very much a character study; showing how each person reacts to the same set of known and unknown things. I’ve been on several spelunking trips / cave tours and there are those times when the guide tells everyone to turn off their lights – it’s exactly how the book describes: a darkness that takes on a physical mass, a weight to it. You do imagine things, even in the couple minutes we sat in silence. The guides have stories of people who before the cave was properly explored became stuck or lost, and when finally found days later were utterly mad with delusion. I understand how easy that would be.
Darkness is often used as a cop-out for horror. Obviously, your imagination is far more horrible than any monster, any seen thing, and so the unknown becomes the antagonist in a lot of stories. I suspect sometimes that’s just because the author would fail miserably if they did try to pen some unspeakable beast and so choose not to claiming the reason above. However, this is above that, I think. It’s deliberate and genuinely good at describing the nothingness, revealing what the characters are seeing in the nothingness and how they’re responding to it individually.
Architecture, really, is just as much about space as it is the lack of it. The concept is brought up a few times in various footnotes, and how foreign the space is because of it’s lack of human features (although it has doors with door handles and so far they seem human sized) or evidence of construction. We only understand things based on origin, we seek to describe thing’s beginnings as a solution to that object’s existence. And so, to find these seemingly infinite hallways and rooms is sort of terrifying in itself with the simple question “Where did it even come from?” – a source of horror in the unknown.
The exterior is explored. Not explored like examined but explored as in explained. As explained as anything inherently unknown can be, I suppose. Where is the exterior? Are there any walls that lead to somewhere that isn’t another room or hallway? Which means, logically, like a hotel floorplan, all of the walls are shared and all of the hallways run congruently to support the geometry, and yet everything shifts which makes it a sort of physical impossibility in the most literal sense: some spaces are occupied twice. Which is, as a rational person trying to navigate, utterly terrifying. Also, begs the question: Can people get stuck in a double space? Which would also imply a sort of quasi-teleportation concept as space is traditionally thought of. I wonder if the book will touch on that at all, later on.
This has become a lot longer than I thought it would.
Anyway. Some thoughts as I read.