Only Revolutions

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This article is about the novel. For the album by Biffy Clyro with the same name, see Only Revolutions (album).
Only Revolutions
Only Revolutions.jpg
Author Mark Z. Danielewski
Country United States
Language English
Genre Literary fiction
Publisher Pantheon Books
Publication date
12 September 2006
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 360 pp
ISBN 0-375-42176-9
OCLC 64427527
813/.54 22
LC Class PS3554.A5596 O55 2006
Preceded by The Fifty Year Sword

Only Revolutions is an American road novel by writer Mark Z. Danielewski. It was released in the United States on September 12, 2006 by Pantheon Books. It was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction.

Plot summary[edit]

The story alternates between two different narratives: Sam & Hailey, and Hailey & Sam, wild and wayward teenagers who never grow old. With an evolving stable of cars, the teenagers move through various places and moments in time as they try to outrace history.

As the story proceeds, one can note that many events are perceptual and not certain. By reading both stories some sense can be made from this poetic styled puzzle. The words written are a vague mix of poetry and stream of consciousness prose. Both Hailey and Sam depict their feelings as well as ideas and thoughts towards one another. It is truly difficult to summarize the plot as most readers will understand the parts of story in different ways.

It can also be noted that the end very much leads into the beginning. It is possible, after finishing the book, to continue the story from the beginning a la James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

Volumes, direction, and layout[edit]

Mark Danielewski

Only Revolutions is printed in such a way that both covers appear to be the front of the book. The side with the green cover is the story as told by Sam, and the side with the gold cover is the story as told by Hailey. Every page contains upside-down text in the bottom margin, which is actually later pages of the opposite volume. For example, the first page of Hailey's story contains the last several lines of Sam's story, apparently upside down. When you reach that page while reading Sam's story, those lines will appear to be the only right-side-up text on the page.

The first letter of each 8 page "section" is larger and bold when compared to the other letters. When the reader puts the single letters together from Hailey's side they spell out "Sam and Hailey and Sam and Hailey..." etc. When read from Sam's side, they spell out "Hailey and Sam and Hailey and Sam..." etc.

Each half-page contains exactly 90 words. When both stories are combined, the words add together for a total of 180 words per page, perhaps to symbolize the 180 degrees the reader must turn the book to read the opposite volume.[original research?] Also, with both pages open, the full word count is 360, essentially making a revolution (360 degrees) with every open page.

The publisher recommends the reading of eight pages from one story, then the other, and so on.

In addition, every page contains a sidebar with a date and a list of world events that happened between that date and the one which appears on the next page. Dates in Sam's story run from Nov 22, 1863 to Nov 22, 1963, while dates in Hailey's story run from Nov 22, 1963 to Jan 19, 2063. This chronological sidebar, which offers a mosaic of 19th - 21st Century historical quotations, becomes blank after Only Revolutions' own publication date. The diverging point between Sam's line and Hailey's line is set at the date of the John F. Kennedy assassination, November 22, 1963.


In Hailey's story, all occurrences of the letter O or the numeral 0 (save a handful between pages 180-184) are printed in gold-colored ink (Pantone 146 U). In Sam's story, those characters are printed with green ink (Pantone 356 U). The dates at the top of the sidebars are printed in purple (Pantone 2602 U), as well as the words "creep" and "The Creep." The book includes a concordance of sorts, titled "Now Here Found" in red ink, which lists the word "house" in blue ink (a throwback to Danielewski's first novel, House of Leaves), bringing the total number of colors in the book to five.


Occurrences of words beginning with al- are misspelled with a doubled l's, such as 'allso', 'allone', and 'allready' throughout the book. This device is repeated in The Fifty Year Sword, accompanied by a quotation mark in Hailey's gold.


For at least two years before the official title was released, its working title was THAT. Danielewski has referred to THAT in interviews, many of which can be found online.

There was also talk of a secret group of recipients of the ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) prior to the release of the book. Soon before the official release date of Only Revolutions, it was revealed that there had, in fact, been a secret forum on the MZD discussion boards, where the book had been discussed since Spring 2006. After September 12 (the public release date of OR), the ARC forum has been merged with the regular one.

Special downloadable content is available at the book's official website.

Reader participation[edit]

Danielewski, most likely fueled by the cult following of his fans gained after the release of House of Leaves, has on numerous occasions called for participation from his readers on certain aspects of the novel. While writing THAT, readers were asked on Danielewski's discussion board to send in their reply to a list of questions pertaining to famous or personal events, their favorite car, animals they respected, and plants that "made them stop", presumably to gather specifics for the book. Several of the forumites' responses were ultimately used in the book.

Also, once the novel was in its final stages, Danielewski called an Open Audition for readers for the audio version of the novel, again on his online forum.


The cover of a spine, two front covers, and two inside flaps. The two front covers appear to be identical in all respects save two. On the dust jacket of the hardback edition, on one cover, the background image is a green eye flecked in the center with gold, and on the opposite cover, the background image is a gold eye flecked in the center with green. Second, the "O's" on the covers are printed in the color appropriate to the narrator, as described above. One of the soft-cover edition covers features a photograph taken on the road with mountains in the background, the partially cloudy sky, the distant mountains, and road are blue, and the areas aside the road are green with vegetation, and the "O"s in the title are a bluish purple. The other cover's photograph is much warmer in composition: it features a red desert at milestone 30 of a road in the southwestern United States, and the sky (as well as the road reflecting its tinge) are grey with a muted red. Accordingly, the "O"s in the title are brownish purple.

On both sides of the paperback edition, the "o"s in "a novel" and "Author of House of Leaves" are the same neutral grey, except in the word "House", which is blue. Similarly, there are three exceptions on the dust jacket to the rule that "O's" are printed in the color of the eye of the associated narrator. Two occur on the dust jacket covers, and they occur on both the gold cover and the green cover. The word "HOUSE" is printed entirely in blue, as it was throughout "House of Leaves," and the word "novel" is printed entirely in purple within the pupil of the eye on each cover. The third exception is the ISBN bar code on the spine; it is printed entirely in black, including zeros and the letter "O" in "fiction."

The covers are identical in the following respects. The pupil of the eye is entirely black save for the author's name, printed in an arc of white block letters around the top of the pupil, the name of the novel, printed in an arc of white block letters (save for the three "O's") around the bottom of the pupil, and the phrase "a novel," printed in purple lower-case lettering in the center of the pupil. Along the bottom of each cover is the phrase "author of "HOUSE OF LEAVES," printed in white lettering save for the word "house" as described above.

The spine of the dust jacket contains five elements. At the top and bottom of the spine there are two identical ISBN bar codes. Between the ISBN bar codes and the center of the spine are two identical (save for the "O's" as described above) circles with "Only Revolutions" in black block letters forming the top of the circle and the author's name forming the bottom of the circle, with the Pantheon logo in the center. In the center of the spine there is a single multicolored circle with two parallel black vertical lines in the center. The multicolored circle itself is green at the top and yellow at the bottom when viewed from the perspective of the green cover being the front. The area of the circle where green turns to yellow is shaded purple. The paperback's spine is similar: there are two identical but inverse Pantheon logos at each end, in between which are the pair of ISBN bar codes, and in between those is the title. With the blue cover up, the title is right side up, and the same goes for the red cover and the author's name - between the two is a blue line. In the title on the spine, the first "O" is the brownish purple of the red cover, the last is the bluish purple of the other cover, and the middle is green with two vertical lines in the center.

The inside flaps are identical in the following respects. Both list the price of the book in the US, Canada, and the UK. Both contain identical photographs of the author, below which appear identical author biographies. Both include a note from the publisher instructing the reader to alternate between Sam and Hailey (or "Hailey and Sam," depending on which flap you examine), reading eight pages at a time. Both contain identical credits for the author photograph, jacket design, and jacket photograph, and both contain the Pantheon logo and web addresses for Pantheon's website and the book's website. On the paperback, identical photographs and author descriptions are obtained, but on the blue cover's flap is a quote from the National Book Award Finalist Judge's Citation, and on the red cover's flap is a quote from the New York Times Book Review (which mentions that the book should be read 8 pages at a time, flipping it).

The blurbs that appear on the inside flaps differ slightly in character, though the structure of the sentences and paragraphs is nearly identical. In accordance with the general flavor of the two narratives, Sam's blurb (inside the green cover) is slightly darker in its imagery and word choice than Hailey's.


The actual bound cover of the book is printed with a full-color still-life photograph of artwork created by Jessica Grindstaff, of various items lying on a flat surface that appears to be particle board. The photograph is shot from directly above the surface, so no clue to an absolute "up" or "down" can betray the true "front" and "back" covers of the book. The composition of the photograph does seem slightly to favor viewing from Hailey's perspective, that is, with the "front" cover of the book opening to reveal Hailey's narrative.

When viewed from this perspective, the photograph has five main color zones. The top right of the photograph is yellow, dominated by several dozen yellow roses. Other items in the yellow zone include gold-painted leaves and twigs, a vial of yellow liquid with its lid wrapped loosely in a gold ribbon, a chunk of pale yellow mineral of some kind, possibly sulfur, a lock of blonde hair, a sunflower, several yellowish pieces of amber with fossil insect inclusions (visible as black specks), and one item of unknown identity, a translucent cylinder wrapped in gold thread.

The bottom left of the photograph is green, dominated by moss and twenty-four butterflies with wings of pale green tipped with forest green. Other items in the green zone include drying leaves, two green-tinted brown nautilus shells, five brilliantly colored green insects, and a white mouse.

The top left of the photograph is white, dominated by a plant with white buds and a paper-thin substance that resembles birch bark. Other items in the upper white zone include two tiles painted with images of trees and a swatch of a silvery tinsel-like substance.

The bottom right of the photograph is also white, dominated by what looks like snow but is probably white cotton batting. Other items in the lower white zone include the skull of a small cat, two white moths, a pile of small bones (all are the wishbones, or furculae, of birds), a tuft of white fur, and what is either an egg or a spider's egg sac. A large number of straight pins are also visible in this zone.

Between the two zones on the left and the two zones on the right is a red zone, dominated by red seed pods. Other items in the red zone include a bird's nest, two magnolia cones, two brown birds, a pile of red leaves, a pile of several dozen honeybees, a desiccated or mummified grey-green anole (visibly pinned down by straight pins), and two small brown mollusk or snail shells.

In the lower central portion of the red zone is a brilliant bluebird lying on its back with a green insect on its chest. The bird is clutching a green ribbon flecked with yellow in its claws.

Attached to the spine are two ribbon bookmarks, one at each end corresponding to the green and gold colors associated with the characters.

The endpapers contain text arranged in circular patterns and printed backwards on a background corresponding to the colors associated with each character.

External links[edit]