Only Revolutions

Only Revolutions was an interesting read. I’m not sure I picked up on everything that was going on there, but seeing the way the two stories complemented – and sometimes contradicted – each other was interesting. The book is heavily structured – there are two stories, each 360 pages, running in opposite directions in the top or bottom half (which is which is impossible to determine) of the book. Each is divided into 8 page sections, and each page has 90 words – with the two stories, this makes each two-page spread contain 360 words.

Sam’s story and Hailey’s are nearly identical in some facets and completely different in others – each begins the story painting themselves as a beautiful, powerful, fearsome figure and the other as pitiful, poor; as the story moves on these perceptions of each other are reversed – because it is, after all, a love story. When the two are at their closest, around page 180, the literal centre of the novel, the words are identical in both halves of the book.

Danielewski had all sorts of fun with the reflections and repetitions, the way names and references appeared in both stories. Where Hailey calls on plants, Sam references animals, and this procession of plants and creatures carries to the centre of the novel, then is repeated in reverse. Where a nickname is used by Sam in one part of the book, a different one is used by Hailey – and then the two are reversed when you reach the opposing page in the book’s other half. The first letter of each 8 page section spells out SAMANDHAILEYANDSAMANDHAILEYANDSAMANDHAILEY (and the reverse) throughout the novel.

A timeline runs through the book inside the margin, referencing world events in a 200 year period (the notes from 2005 to 2063 left blank), but I never quite understood how it fit with Hailey and Sam’s journey. I had a suspicion that the period in which the tale is set was different for each character, and may have changed over the course of the book, but I stopped paying attention to the words in the margin pretty early on, as I felt it was just distracting me from the flow of the book.

I was a big fan of Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and devoured every page of it – though I didn’t go so far as trying to decipher all the hidden messages – but Only Revolutions is a very different work, just as clever and carefully constructed, but it didn’t quite grab me in the same way. It’s fascinating in the way it is constructed, and I think the novel works in that sense; I just don’t have much of a taste for the almost stream-of-consciousness, near-poetic style of prose that this one was written in. Despite that, I would still recommend it – but I’d recommend House of Leaves first.

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