The Raw Shark Texts, when you think about it, seems right up my alley: full of word games, puns, a plot based to great degree on the mechanics of thought and language. In all honesty, I didn’t know any of that when I picked it up. My impression from reading the cover flap was that it was a heady drama about an amnesiac—some careful blend of Memento and a weepy Chuck Palahniuk. Not so much, unfortunately, on the really sweet game XIII, which was also about an amnesiac but involved more firearms.
But that is neither here nor there. My actual opinion of Steven Hall’s curious little book still hasn’t congealed; it’s currently shifting like the globules of a lava lamp, sometimes nearing incredulity at how scripted and inane it seems at points, and at others marveling at the subtle intricacies of the plot and downright cleverness of its metaphors and rhetorical footwork.
Let me give you a brief overview: Eric Sanderson wakes up in a panic with no memory and no knowledge of where or even who he is. His only clue is a letter, apparently written by his pre-amnesiac self to his post-amnesiac self with instructions. So begins Eric’s decidedly odd but remarkably dangerous journey into the narrow crevasse between the literal and the literary. It soon becomes apparent that Eric is being hunted by something præternatural, and it has ramifications much larger than he ever could have known.
In my particular American way, I lust for conclusive conclusions—very bourgeois of me, I know—but there are none to be found at the end of The Raw Shark Texts. One could probably expect just such a thing: the story itself is so maddeningly vague and playful, always dodging in and out of contexts that are comprehensible to flesh-and-blood readers, that there was never much hope of a sensible ending.
I sound critical, I suppose, but notwithstanding my initial scepticism to the book’s sudden dive into madness about 100 pages in, I enjoyed the book: Hall is an incredibly clever writer, even if some of his plot elements are kind of hackneyed. He’s got real talent as a wordsmith, and I must admit that the book held my attention throughout—I was downright anxious at some points.
Oh, and did I mention that about 50 pages of the book is nothing but a flipbook? Postmodernism, eat your heart out.