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Challenging Narrative Hierarchies: Embedded Narrative Structure in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves

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posted on 2021-11-12, 09:53 authored by Waldron, Samuel James

Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves and David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas both feature highly complex structures of narrative embedding. This thesis examines the use of narrative levels in these two novels, considering how the purposes and effects of embedding change and how attention to the structure of this literary device transforms readings of these texts. Cloud Atlas features six distinct and seemingly stand-alone embedded narratives. The relationship between them is complicated both by competing structural models and by clashes of continuity between fact and fiction. Mitchell's novel draws attention to the role of storytelling in the creation of history and human identity. House of Leaves embeds an invented film within a novel masquerading as film criticism, with edits and commentary provided by a further narrator. The disparate parts, narratorial unreliability, and multiple acts of remediation serve to undermine the elaborate narrative hierarchy Danielewski creates. This instability foregrounds the subjectivity of the relationship between reader and text and the embedding narrator functions as a model for the active reader who both interprets and recreates. In both novels the differently styled narratives and structures of embedding facilitate an exploration of the permutations of fact and fiction and, by transgressing the norms of this literary device, they bring into focus the assumptions that exist around it.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Williams, Mark; Meffan, James