- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (September 12, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375421769
- ISBN-13: 978-0375421761
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 102 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Only Revolutions: A Novel Hardcover – September 12, 2006
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Mark Danielewski's first novel House of Leaves is a cult-favorite--experimental horror fiction in a gorgeous (and newly remastered) full-color package. His new book Only Revolutions takes the experiment 10 steps further in a story about teenage lovers Hailey and Sam: the book is printed on two sides--one side tells the story from Hailey's point of view, flip it over and you get Sam's side (literally). We caught a glimpse inside the mind-bending new novel--take a look for yourself below.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. A pastiche of Joyce and Beckett, with heapings of Derrida's Glas and Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 thrown in for good measure, Danielewski's follow-up to House of Leaves is a similarly dizzying tour of the modernist and postmodernist heights—and a similarly impressive tour de force. It comprises two monologues, one by Sam and one by Hailey, both "Allmighty sixteen and freeeeee," each narrating the same road trip, or set of neo-globo-revolutionary events—or a revolution's end: "Everyone loves the Dream but I kill it." Figuring out what's happening is a big part of reading the book. The verse-riffs narrations, endlessly alliterative and punning (like Joyce) and playfully, bleakly existential (like Beckett), begin at opposite ends of the book, upside down from one another, with each page divided and shared. Each gets 180 words per page, but in type that gets smaller as they get closer to their ends (Glas was more haphazard), so they each gets exactly half a page only at the midway point of the book: page 180—or half of a revolution of 360 degrees. A time line of world events, from November 22, 1863 ("the abolition of slavery"), to January 19, 2063 (blank, like everything from January 18, 2006, on), runs down the side of every page. The page numbers, when riffled flip-book style, revolve. The book's design is a marvel, and as a feat of Pynchonesque puzzlebookdom, it's magnificent. The book's difficulty, though, carries a self-consciousness that Joyce & Co. decidedly lack, and the jury will be out on whether the tricks are of the for-art's-sake variety or more like a terrific video game. (Sept. 5)
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Fans of Mark Z. Danielewskyi's House of Leaves will recognize this as the first sentence of that book. While it is meant to be a warning by either Zampanò or Johnny Truant not to read the following book, it could also very well be a warning by MZD about his 2006 follow-up to "House of Leaves" "Only Revolutions" because this book is NOT for everybody. It certainly isn't for anybody expected it to be the same type of book that "House of Leaves" is and it would be wrong tell people "If you loved HOL, you're going to love this!" The worst review anybody could write is "I love it!" and almost as bad is "I hated it!" Why are these statements bad? Because they only say that the reviewer loved or hated something and not WHY they felt that way. Hopefully whoever reads this review will have a good idea about whether "Only Revolutions" is worth spending any money on.
The first thing that the reader needs to know about "Only Revolutions" is that it---despite the claims of the author---is NOT a novel. Novels are written in prose. This is a poem. Two long, interlocking narrative poems, but still poems. It doesn't matter that all the lines of the book don't rhyme or that there isn't a consistent meter like iambic pentameter. One of my old English professors in college said that a poem is a piece of writing where it matters what is the first word in each line. Make no mistake---"Only Revolutions" is written with as much precision as anything you will ever see from William Shakespeare. Each page of the text contains 36 lines from top to bottom and also 180 words. The upper part of each page contains one poem with the perspective of one character, while the bottom part contains the perspective of the other character, but upside-down. The font of the upper section is very large and gradually gets smaller throughout the rest of the book, while the upside-down text goes from very tiny to very large. After every eight pages, a new section begins with a large capital letter. At this point, you are supposed to flip the book to the other side and read the corresponding chapter from the other perspective. Think of this as a poetry/literary fiction equivalent to Lauren Oliver's Replica I recommend reading the book this way because the corresponding chapters of this book tend to mirror each other. Similar things happen to each character, and we are supposed to notice how they are the same and also how they are different. I found that when it is hard to understand one character because of the period slang they use (more on that later), I can get the better gist of what's going on when I read the other side.
Who are these characters and what is going on? Well, the characters names are two teenagers named "Sam" and "Hailey." If you take the first initial letter of each of the chapters, you will get the following message. From the Hailey narrative you get "S.A.M.A.N.D.H.A.I.L.E.Y.A.N.D.S.A.M.A.N.D.H.A.I.L.E.Y.A.N.D.S.A.M.A.N.D.H.A.I.L.E.Y.A.N.D." From the Sam narrative you get "H.A.I.L.E.Y.A.N.D.S.A.M.A.N.D.H.A.I.L.E.Y.A.N.D.S.A.M.A.N.D.H.A.I.L.E.Y.A.N.D.S.A.M.A.N.D." I believe this is a clue from the author about the importance of reading the book section by section. Furthermore, if you alternate narratives, that means the reader reads sixteen pages at a time before advancing to the next chapter. Both Sam and Hailey are sixteen years old, as we learn from the first pages of their stories. Not just sixteen right now, but sixteen allways [sic] because the characters do not age over the course of two hundred years.
That's another thing that is difficult to grasp about this narrative. Sam's story begins in November 22, 1863 a few days after the Gettysburg Address is given. Hailey's begins a hundred years on the day John F. Kennedy is assassinated. No references are made in either poem as to the specific date, but on each page of the book, there is a sidebar which mentions historic incidents that took place supposedly when the events in the poem are taking place. So if the characters are a hundred years apart, how come they are both together in each narrative? For example, how can the Hailey of the 1960's show up in Sam's storyline in 1869, while he shows up in Hailey's storyline in 1963? Furthermore, what happens in each narrative is very, VERY similar. Is history repeating itself or are each character in a time warp perceiving the same events differently?
My take is simple. This is an allegory, and the time elements should not be taken too literally. I think MZD uses the changing timeline to comment on what is happening in history, but I don't think it is necessary to get or understand every historical reference to appreciate the book. If you take the events what happens in the book too seriously, you won't enjoy it at all. For example, early in the book the reader gets used to Sam reciting lists of different animals that he sees, while Hailey notices different plants. These animals and plants give brief snippets of advice for the first half of the book and act as a sort of Greek chorus. Then around page 51 of both narratives comes an incident which will be the make or break point for many readers. In the Hailey narrative, the two stop for a call of nature, and Hailey will defecate five or six different types of trees along with rocks, and then she burps both clouds and rainbows. The same thing happens with Sam except for him it is five types of animals instead. Both wind up with a ring of excrement around their left wrists and somehow becomes a valuable "Leftwrist Twist" which symbolizes their growing love. I think just mentioning this has saved $15 on the part of many readers considering buying this book. But for the rest who are still interested, I'll explain why I kept reading.
I kept reading because there are many parts of this book which are beautifully written, even though I didn't completely understand it. But MANY poems are like that. If you can push through the parts that area chore to read, you will get to more stuff that's interesting. If you're still not sure, go to YouTube and search for audio readings of this book to see if this is what you might be interested in. If I could understand more of it, or if it weren't so difficult to get through parts of this, I would give this book five stars. But there is too much stuff here that is too beautiful for me not to give it at least four.
Now I'll see what "House of Leaves" is all about. (Yes, I'm one of the few people who has read this book w/o finishing "House of Leaves.") Wish me luck!
This may just be a matter of personal preference, but it's clearly a preference many other people share, so I'd at least consider what kinds of narratives and writing generally appeal to you if this is a book you're considering. This might be one people either love or hate.
House of Leaves, Lewis Hyde's Trickster Makes This World, and a good book of American history are extremely useful background reading.
Have a dictionary and/or the Internet on hand; the vocabulary is confusing, but there are far fewer made-up words than you'd think, and a quick Google search will decode most of the historical notes.
Ignore the publisher's suggestion to alternate between a chapter of Sam and a chapter of Hailey; for your first reading, just pick a side and barrel on through, only paying attention to the historical notes and opposite text when something really captures your interest. For subsequent readings, you'll probably have created a set of rules for yourself to follow.
In later readings, go slow. The amount of information packed into each chapter is enormous. Take the time to get familiar with the relevant portion of American history. Spend some time on the opposite page and upside-down text (the entire book is symmetrical two ways). Take notes.
If the above hasn't made it clear enough, have a lot of spare time.
Most recent customer reviews
Story is hard to follow no matter how you read it.Read more