Mark Z. Danielewski's The Fifty Year Sword is told by five narrators whose parts were ostensibly collected in interviews and tightly interleaved. Quoting the first page:

Maybe because the history of any ghost story is a ghost story unto itself, which is to say another story completely, assuming any of what follows can rightly even be considered a ghost story; rather than delve into the devices and biases and oddly canted idiom of the five persons—one of whom in the early years slept with another and now endlessly wonders about the lakes of fall where someone else once wandered; two of whom still nurture their affection for one another, expressing so in an array of notes and overseas phone calls; a fourth who lost three; and the last of whom from the prison of a later life hates them all—or represent them throughout with characterizing phrases, temporal references, and even more quotation marks hopelessly nested within reiterating nests of still more marks; to delineate their respective and independently conducted interviews, colored quotation marks are used instead: " = 1, " = 2, " = 3, " = 4, " = 5". Where no quotations appear only the worst should be assumed: an interruption by someone other than one of the before mentioned persons, the reader or even the author who additionally, it must be stated, has done nothing more than lend together these gathered and rerelated bits so as to here present a pretty peculiar and perhaps altogether alternate history of one October evening in East Texas.—MD

All typos and emphasis mine. The five quotation marks are actually in different colours in the book

It's been a few years since I read the book, but I didn't get the impression that the different narrators actually affect the way the story is told, where I would really expect an unreliable and in parts contradictory narrative. The text is simply broken into segments of various lengths (usually around one or two lines), each given to a different narrator. I couldn't even really extract any characterisations of the individual narrators, or match the five people described above with the five different colours.

Is this background story and the use of the five different quotation marks just a gimmick or can we actually extract additional meaning from who narrates what part? What about the italicised part in the above quote? Seeing how much effort Danielewski put into every single detail of some of his other works, I'd be surprised if the narrative wasn't assigned carefully to the individual narrators, so I'm wondering whether the additional meaning is actually there but was just lost on me due to not paying enough attention?


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