In Mark Z. Danielewski's enigmatic novel House of Leaves, an individual named Johnny Truant discovers the manuscript of his recently deceased neighbor Zampanò. The manuscript is an academic work concerning an unusual documentary called "The Navidson Record" (made even more unusual by the fact that Zampanò was blind). Within "The Navidson Record", the focus is on subject Will Navidson and his family's residence in The House (sometimes known as the "House of Leaves") on Ash Tree Lane.
Johnny Truant finds Zampanò's notes about The Navidson Record, an unusual documentary film about the account of photojournalist Will Navidson and his time at a most unusual house. He notes the unusual condition of Zampanò's apartment, such as being completely black and lined with measuring tape as if to always check on the size of the interior. He then takes it upon himself to be the manuscript's editor, incorporating his own notes and elements into the narrative.
Navidson, his partner Karen Green, and their children move into the House as an attempt to become closer as a family and to ease Karen's tensions caused by Navidson's lengthy absences. It seems like the best life until Navidson notices the unusual differences in measurement of the interior compared to the exterior. As time goes on, the house's interior continues to expand from a mysterious new door in their children's bedroom to a series of labyrintine passageways that form under the house and extend seemingly forever into darkness. Navidson becomes more and more intrigued and obsessed with photographing and videotaping the expansion, aided by his estranged twin brother Tom and friend Billy Reston. Their first recording becomes the infamous "The Five and Half Minute Hallway".
Determined to investigate further, Navidson hires renowned wilderness explorer Holloway Roberts and his two man crew Wax and Jed. The explorers make their way into the labyrintine passageways but Holloway's resolve crumbles as he starts to believe that his group is being stalked by a monster. He shoots Jed, believing him to be a stalking beast, and then is driven to further insanity by the House, attempting to kill Navidson and Reston when they descend. Reston saves Navidson and Holloway's men and gets them back to the surface (although Jed dies from his wounds and the rope supporting Navidson breaks). The House then entraps Holloway in a series of locked-in corridors, breaking him down to the point of committing suicide. A recording made by Holloway before his death, later found by Navidson, shows the House engulfing Holloway's corpse in darkness, either consuming him or simply burying the body in the expansion. Navidson is later saved by Karen conquering her claustrophobia.
In the climax of The Navidson Record, the House comes to life and violently tries to kill the Navidsons by swallowing them. Tom manages to save Navidson and Karen's children but is killed when the house swallows him (described in a manner such as the floor becoming a treadmill). Ultimately, Navidson descends one final time and manages to escape mostly intact (save frostbite damage). In spite of all the physical and psychological damage caused by the House, Navidson and his family become much closer, thus showing how the House perversely fulfilled their desire.
The House on Ash Tree Lane initially only seems to be a standard house until the noticeable changes begin occuring. It defies logic and physics through its constant expansion. The exterior remains the same size despite the reshaping of the interior. The material of its walls is tested scientifically and are found to be older than the Solar System. This briefly leads Navidson to question and consider if the House is God (or something like it).
The House also is completely silent, save for a low growl that emerges periodically. (One academic analysis observes that the growl is the sound produced by the constant reshaping of the house.) Its constant expansion results in psychological effects on its occupants. Navidson and Karen's children, for example, draw pictures of the house as having demons in the margins while being mostly darkness.
By the conclusion of the novel, the House comes to life and viciously attacks the family, killing Tom in the process. Beforehand, it shows other signs of life in how it entraps Holloway in a series of locked corridors and then consuming his corpse following his suicide. It also hid away sight of its passageways when a cop briefly investigated the premises. These abilities are somewhat Lovecraftian in nature due to the completely off measurements, madness-inducing effect, and manipulation of darkness in the passageways.
It is recorded in The Navidson Record that everyone who had contact with the house in any way, including a cop that could not see the passageway, suffered from tinnitus at the least. In more extreme cases, the effects ranged such as Wax experiencing impotence to Navidson having suffered frostbite during his descent into the House.
As noted above, the House also ultimately delivers a perverse form of wish fulfillment. Through terror and psychological effects, it brought the Navidson family closer together. Holloway wished to have a worthy and challenging expedition and found it at the cost of his sanity and life.
Just a Story?
Throughout the novel, The Navidson Record is repeatedly said to be complete fiction despite its numerous references to real life commentators, authors, and theorists. When Johnny attempts to contact them for confirmation about the existence of The Navidson Record, he is repeatedly dismissed and the documentary is said to be fake. He discovers no trace of the House's existence, save for an odd case of one commentator recalling something akin to The Navidson Record.
Despite that, Zampanò's notes about The Navidson Record and the House take their toll on Johnny's sanity and well-being. He becomes devoted to completing his editing of the manuscript, isolates himself in the apartment, and starts to exhibit several traits of both Zampanò and Navidson through his developing paranoia and sudden decision to continously measure the apartment to check if it too expanded in size. Whether or not this deteroiration of Johnny Truant is caused by the effects of Zampanò's writings or his own personal problems, such as drug abuse and lack of sleep and food, is never made entirely clear. Thus, the House in itself, even if it is a fictional entity, still demonstrates the capability of driving someone to madness.