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Review: Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Fifty Year Sword

Review: Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Fifty Year Sword

The 50 Year Sword Cover

The Fifty Year Sword
by Mark Z. Danielewski
2005
Book


Autumn is finally in the air; the smell of coal fires litter the evening air where I live, the leaves are turning to rich golds and warm umbers. Either joyfully or annoyingly (depending on your opinion of the matter) everything is pumpkin spiced, and you can more than likely find me holding a pumpkin whilst telling the Christmas crowd to back off.

Are you settled? Warm socks and a steaming mug of whatever takes your fancy?

Because you have a date with “a bad man with a very black heart…”

The Fifty Year Sword is at first glance an exquisite looking book; however, it holds something quiet, something menacing within its pages and under its jacket. The story is told by five speakers, differentiated by coloured quotation marks, and is told entirely in dialogue.

Chintana has decided to attend the 50th birthday party of Belinda Kite, the woman with whom her husband had an affair. A storyteller comes to the house to entertain five orphans with a dark tale where they traverse through The Valley of Salt, amongst The Forest of Falling Notes, scaling the Mountain of Manyone Paths to reach the Man With No Arms.

If I were to tell you any more than that, it would give away too much. Danielewski is renowned for his ability to juxtapose imagery and narrative to create a non-trivial text and The Fifty Year Sword is a wonderful welcome into this world if you haven’t yet delved into it.

The narrative draws you in; the dialogue that is crossed between and cut amongst provides it with a quickened pace. The visuals of the seemingly sliced pages, the stitched embroidery providing you with a sense of connection all add to the overall experience, everything in Danielewski’s worlds is done deliberately with deep thought and finesse.

Some find this kind of literature as gimmicky, rather pretentious and occasionally not worth taking the time to read. First printed in 2005 with a limited edition run of 1000 copies, and then another run several years later, it has proved itself to be a cult favourite. Relying on intricate, woven language and the depths of the reader’s mind rather than unnecessary depictions of violence, it is a much more successful tale for the ages.

Ergodic fiction is continuously growing, changing and adapting to new various platforms. With these changes come new methods of becoming immersive, of providing an all-round experience but if you’re daunted by the scale of that or unsure where to start, then The Fifty Year Sword is an excellent doorway in.

This book is more than a ghost story told on Hallow’s Eve and more than a fairy-tale to be forgotten.

The last question to be asked: What will happen on your fiftieth birthday?

Review: Shaun Tan’s The Arrival

Review: Shaun Tan’s The Arrival

The Arrival
by Shaun Tan
2006
Book


My love affair with Shaun Tan started when my mother called me up saying that she had found a book that “…you would just love. It’s just weird and you.” Which is a fair enough assessment considering we both have a penchant for the weird and wonderful regarding all aspects of life.

This little book (literally) is called Eric; it combines simple storytelling with intricate illustrations which are the means that cause your mind to wander. The writing is just a little nudge in the right direction.

After finding myself bemused and a little more than curious I went on a search for other tales by Shaun Tan and came across (read: immediately fell in love with and had to own on pain of death) The Arrival. Let me sum it up for you quick: it is an exquisite piece of storytelling that fosters the imagination and draws upon your deductive skills.

It has no words.

None.

There is no nudge in the right direction and that is what is so wonderful about this piece of literature. You as the reader must delve into each of the illustrations, unpicking every pencil stroke, each stationary expression and every little clue that you can find. The best part is that words aren’t needed; sure, the story itself has an intended meaning – the author wrote it to depict something specific – but you get to create your own narrative. Decisions are yours to be made; because of this you have a certain degree of freedom when choosing what’s happening. However, it could be frustrating if you are used to ‘traditional literature’ where the author uses language to securely lead the reader to the conclusion.

The interactivity in this story lies in the fact that the images firmly put you in the main character’s shoes. The reader is just as bewildered as he, trying to figure out what all these new symbols mean, how to get from one place to the next, how to survive in a world that is it entirely unfamiliar. It creates the connection between reader and character compelling us to care, to draw on our empathy and to make us keep turning the page.

Rooted underneath the grayscale, vast landscapes and intriguing creatures a heart beats within the pages. Showcasing something that we can all relate to, that we can all find similarity in our own lives to connect with.

Even the way The Arrival is presented (as a tattered leather bound journal) captures the reader’s attention, and I believe is a wholly different form of storytelling that should be explored for years to come. For some reason, there is just something about being able to hold this book in your hands, to turn each page, opposed to swiping left on a screen that adds to the ambience.

Overall it is a uniquely packaged experience which, although may not be considered literature by some, should be held in the very highest esteem.

Go forth. Create your own story within a story.