Judging from the press surrounding British author Steven Hall’s first novel The Raw Shark Texts, he has some rather impressive shoes to fill. Hailed as the next “international sensation,” Hall’s narrative has been likened to James Joyce, William Gibson, and…Dan Brown? Incongruity of references aside, its aggressive marketing as part psychological thriller and part postmodern detective story (other buzzwords include Murakami, Auster and Pynchon), makes it difficult for Hall to succeed on both counts. Ultimately, the text hits the mark far more accurately on the former.
Hall draws from a wide variety of influences and theoretical interests: Saussurian linguistics, chaos theory, and a paranoia reminiscent of Memento all work together in telling the tale of Eric Sanderson, a man who has woken up in a state of total amnesia.
The real action starts when Sanderson begins to receive letters and packages from his former self, leaving him to uncover what has resulted in his current state. From there, we learn of the trauma that has set this story in motion, a dead and therefore highly Romanticized partner, a seemingly unreliable (and predictably described) helper in the form of a marmish female doctor, and ultimately, the knowledge that Sanderson’s consciousness has been inhabited by the Ludovician, a conceptual mind-shark whose prey is memory and identity.
The concept is very intriguing, and while Hall crafts some strong sentences and clever word play (the title is a fine example), there is a stark contrast between the central and secondary narratives: the descriptions in the main story tend to alternate between clunky and schmaltzy, while the contextual information is more in keeping with the frenetic energy and dissolution of the self that the text wants to portray. Moreover, for a work which foregrounds problem-solving and implements several realist devices, the initial situation doesn’t seem terribly plausible: if one wakes up without a clue as to their identity, might one not head to the hospital with the referred to photo identification?
In many ways, the marketing strategy overshadows the text itself (there is already a movie in the works, an online forum, and an attendant visual arts show). The campaign works in tandem with the text’s code-breaking theme, consisting of a variety of clues coming in the post, all of which mirror the protagonist’s journey toward realization: first, an anonymous letter warning the recipient of his or her impending doom (which some might argue is more creepy and intrusive than necessary); next, the arrival of a business card with the text “I need to speak to you: 416-619-5469” and a link to here. Very slick, indeed.
The buzz is undeniable, and if you are interested in a truly interactive reading experience, The Raw Shark Texts may warrant investigation; if you expect the next Neuromancer or The Crying of Lot 49, proceed with caution.
That said, let the last word be yours. Torontoist is giving away ten copies, and all you have to do is answer the skill-testing question below to enter and join the discussion! (Contest closes May 1).
The Raw Shark Texts officially launches tonight at SPIN Gallery (1100 Queen Street West) as a part of TINARS and the author will be in attendance. The party starts at 7 p.m. and is open to everyone.