No matter what I write here, it's not going to do this novel justice. On its face it seems like just a Blair Witch-esque send up of reality, but the story is much more intricate, the writing is excellent, and the level of coding/interaction and hidden twists and meanings make the novel more like a literary lament configuration than anything else. And yes, it mentions penguins twice. I don't have the book in front of me since I've lent it out (again) but there's a scene where Tom Navidson makes a joke about dwarves and penguins, and a short interview segment with Hunter S. Thompson where he talks about smashing a jade penguin figurine.
House of Leaves