OF TWISTS AND TURNS
Novelist Mark Z Danielewski is changing the way the world reads and appreciates the written word, one book at a time
t is quite impossible to categorise the work of critically-acclaimed American author Mark Z Danielewski.
Since releasing his debut novel House of Leaves in 2000, he has boggled the minds of readers, prompting debates in academic circles, and polarising critics with his unique brand of storytelling. Utilising a combination of visual elements, context clues, and nuances lifted from a diverse array of fields, Danielewski skilfully crafts verbal and optical labyrinths loaded with twists and turns that are open to different interpretations depending on the one reading the tale.
Aside from House of Leaves which won the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award in 2001, Danielewski has completed another novel, Only Revolutions, as well as a host of short stories, essays, and novellas which include the dark urban fable The Fifty Year Sword. His current literary project is a multi-book novel titled The Familiar, the fourth and fifth instalments of which— Hades and Redwood— will be released this year.
Born in New York City, Danielewski has a degree in English Literature from Yale University and an MFA from the School of Cinema-Television from the University of Southern California.
For more information about Mark Z Danielewski and his work, visit his official website at markzdanielewski.com.
caused debates because of the unusual way it was written and printed. Was this a deliberate act on your part?
Sure. Here’s an example: when Johnny [Truant, the main character] spells the word “should’ve”—should have—he writes it as “should of.” It definitely turned heads; many people thought the copy editors must have overlooked it. But it was deliberate: it was a way of presenting the character and what he was like. When I fi rst wrote the novel, there was no text messaging and e-mails were limited. Now, the way we write and present language has changed; you have all these emojis, these misspellings, and misapprehensions of words, of what they mean, and what people want to say. It’s fascinating to see how this play of visual and textual language began to play out in the world of Johnny Truant and how it continues to evolve over time.
Your work seems to defy classification in any one genre; you seem to like weaving in different elements to tell your stories. Is that a way of getting a reaction out of the reader?
In the case of House of Leaves, we can talk about the specifi city it has with the horror genre; but, really, what it does is create a place for the readers’ own fears. People have come up to me to tell me how the book horrified them, but it actually reveals what they’re afraid of, their darkness, what their proclivities are.
Only Revolutions, on the other hand, is very poetic. It’s about two kids on a road trip across 200 years of American history. It’s also built on music and design, so it also plays with a different set of rules.
You have described your work many times as “signiconic.” What does that really mean?
The signiconic simultaneously engages both the visual and textual faculties of the mind. It’s not like an illustrated novel where you need to see the images in order to understand the story.
Here, there is a marriage of the visual and textual; it’s what enables writers and readers to move through—and beyond—a variety of genres, perspectives, and biases. That, for me as an author, is the grand adventure.
THE GENRE BREAKER Mark Z Danielewski; The latest volume of Danielewski’s (inset) The award-winning Your debut novel