I bought Danielewski’s new book because I loved House of Leaves. It was a weird, scary and visually interesting novel. It’s unique presentation and original storytelling tricks were very compelling. It is no surprise then that I sought out other work by the same author. Online reviews of Danielweski’s other quirky book Only Revolutions, promised the readers an experience just as strange and original. They did not lie.
The book is definitely something else. It really an amazing piece of work with respect to all the work that went into layout, editing, typesetting and binding. Most writers do not concern themselves with the presentation of their book – they leave that up to the publisher. Danielewski however treats these elements as devices that can help him to convey the story. Just like in House of Leaves it features pages with notes on the margins, differently sized fonts, use of color to emphasize key words or letters and masterful use of white space.
What is more interesting is that the book has front or back. You can start reading it from either side. Each page is divided in half and has text printed both right side up and upside down. It effectively tells two stories – each from the perspective of a different character. They start from opposite ends of the book and converge in the middle. The author recommends alternating between these stories 8 pages at a time for best effect. The copy I have includes two color coded bookmark ribbons that allow you to mark your place when you are flipping the book around. It’s visually stunning.
Yes, there is a “but”. As much as I am impressed by the way the book looks, I just… I… I just don’t get it.
I tried to read it. I tried really hard. I really did. I sat there for hours, flipping the book upside down and right side up, reading page after page only to realize I had no clue what the hell was going on. And no, it was not the eerie WTF feeling that you experience while reading House of Leaves. I was not confused about mysterious elements of the plot, or strange storytelling twists. I was just hopelessly confused as to what I actually read. Reading Only Revolutions was like reading some of those auto generated spam messages that are designed to look like English sentences in order too fool the filters, but ultimately make no sense. I was reading words, which were masterfully strung together with alternating rhymes, clusters of colorful alterations and an impeccable rhythm, but they made no sense. The sentences just seemed random, scattered and incoherent. Let me show you:
This is not just a funky first page. The whole book is exactly like that.
Danielewski’s prose reads like poetry. Hell, it is poetry. It is a long, immaculately edited poem that represents raw stream of consciousness. It is a long monologue full of abstract messages, allusions and imagery. It does not tell a story but skirts around it and very indirectly hints at what may or may not be going on. I can really appreciate amount of work that the author put into this work, and I tell you that it is quite brilliant. But I just couldn’t get through it. I was around 20 pages in on both sides of the story when I realized that I still couldn’t tell what is going on. Each page was like a puzzle, and it almost felt like I maybe needed to rearrange the words in some way for it to make sense. There was no story, and no plot that I could identify – no chapters, no paragraphs, no dialogs. Just an endless stream of feelings, ideas, exclamations and cryptic word plays.
I really wanted to enjoy this book, but I just could not wrap my head around what Danielewski was trying to say. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m not a native English speaker and so I am not picking up certain linguistic nuances. I never really read much poetry and when I do I usually appreciate it for all the wrong reasons. I look at the way the artists strings it together, I admire his colorful vocabulary, the way he keeps it all together and manages to still maintain coherence and meaning. But what does it mean? Hell if I know. Not enough data. Maybe that is my problem. I’m too analytical – I think with the left side of my brain and the book requires you to read it with the right side. I just don’t know.
I have read many books, and encountered many literary works I didn’t particularly enjoy. But this is the first one that my brain was just not capable to process. I’m honestly baffled by it.
I’m putting this book on my shelf for now, because it really looks very nice there. It is definitely an aesthetic piece, a conversation starter and and something to be experienced. I actually don’t regret buying it just for that very reason. I just wish it made some damn sense. I can’t really recommend it because I technically have not read it (not that I wasn’t trying to). But if you do pick it up, please let me know what it was about. In a few years I will try to read it again. Maybe it will make more sense then.