Updated: Apr 8
In academic circles, Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves is known as an important text. It’s a post-modern example of found document taken to the nth degree; it’s the haunted house on the next level; it’s a masterclass in unreliable narrator. From what I’ve observed, guys love it. Women* … know they have to read it because it’s important (this is an anecdotal observation, I have nothing but my own experience to back it up). Personally, I found the misogyny ingrained in the story a bit much to handle, and as with many literary texts, it had a self-aware cleverness that wasn’t subtle. I’ve forced myself through enough of it to write about it with authority, but I certainly haven’t devoured every page.
Don’t worry, you haven’t accidentally clicked the wrong link. This is a review for The Grip of It by Jac Jemc. I’m getting to it.
I pushed through House of Leaves because I knew I had to read it to be able to write critically on the topic of 21st century found document gothic. I pushed myself to finish The Grip of It because I kept hoping it would shrug off House of Leaves’ mistakes. It didn’t. If anything, it rolled around in them with gleeful abandon. The Grip of It is the story of a couple who move to a new house in the suburbs following James’ confession that he’s lost all his money on a gambling habit. Not long after they move in, they experience several phenomena that might suggest the house is haunted. Their neighbour has an odd fixation with them, and they suspect the house used to be his … or still is his … or something—it’s never really resolved.
Even on just a surface level, it feels like Jemc is drawing pretty heavily on House of Leaves. Both texts revolve around a house with impossible proportions, and focus on the breakdown of a relationship. This is ostensibly because of the stress of the house, but in both cases it’s implied it’s the woman’s fault.
However, Jemc is very focussed on hurting Julie, the female half of the couple – literally. While both characters experience hallucinations and exhibit strange behaviour, Julie is regularly covered in enormous, unexplained bruises. Whenever she tries to drink water in the house, it becomes moulded over. Towards the end of the novel, she spends a long period in hospital. Cursory suspicion is cast over James – who despite his wife’s pain and injury, still manages to blame her for everything that’s happened, even penning confessions in her handwriting.
To be honest, I would normally DNF a book that was giving me such bad vibes, but I kept hoping for at least a clean ending. This being horror, we can never expect total satisfaction. The uncanny is only uncanny if we’re not quite sure which side of the ‘homely’ border it’s falling. But The Grip of It, for me, failed to come to any true resolution, in terms of its haunted house mystery, or Julie and James’s ongoing relationship. I am left as empty as the mysterious spaces that fill the haunted(?) house. * I realise that I’m using binary language here, but this again is the extent of my experience The Grip of It is available to purchase on paperback and ebook here.