Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

First things first, stay calm.
[pg 10]

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
Canongate, 2007
Fiction; 428 pgs

From Amazon: The Raw Shark Texts, called “clever, playful . . . sharp and clear” by the Los Angeles Times and “a horror-dystopic-philosophical mash-up” by the New York Times Magazine, is a novel unlike any other. Eric Sanderson wakes up in a house one day with no idea who or where he is. Instructed by a mysterious note to visit a Dr. Randle, Eric learns that the agony of losing the love of his life in a scuba-diving accident three years before has destroyed his memory. But there may be more to the story, or it may be a different story altogether. As Eric begins to examine letters and papers left in the house by “the first Eric Sanderson,” a staggeringly different explanation for what is happening to Eric emerges, and he and the reader embark on a quest to recover the truth and escape the remorseless predatory forces that threatens to devour him. The Raw Shark Texts is a kaleidoscopic novel about the magnitude of love and the devastating effect of losing that love.

My Thoughts: I was asked to read this book by one of my coworkers who was not sure whether or not she liked it. As I got a little further into the book, I could understand why. It is not one of those books a person can adequately describe to someone who has not yet experienced it—and that’s exactly what this book is, an experience.

The title for Steven Hall’s novel is a play on the well known Rorschach Tests, more often referred to as the inkblot tests. It is a test that is believed to help reveal conceptual ideas, thought disorders and possible psychosis. Quite a few times throughout the book, I found myself wondering if Eric Sanderson was on a deep descent into mental illness. Or was it all real, his battle with the conceptual enemy that is eating away at his memories and the mental illness label just his therapist’s explanation for something she knew nothing about? Is Scout, his guide into the un-space, real or imagined? She seems real enough as does Doctor Fidorous. Both hold the knowledge of Eric’s past and can possibly lead him to salvation—or so Eric believes. But what of the Ludovician, the paper tunnel, the secret codes and constant paranoia? Is it real or Eric’s psychosis? It is up to the reader to decide, something the author encourages and, for the most part, expects.

One of my favorite parts about this book is Ian, the cat. Not just the cat himself, but about how he goes along with Eric on Eric’s search for the truth, Ian not always appreciating being dragged around from place to place or being put into dangerous situations. Ian is just an ordinary cat—he has no special powers or abilities. He is just there. He was an anchor to known reality in many respects, especially when events took a more surreal turn.

Taking a look beyond the bizarre, this book picks up on familiar themes. It is about a man who is in search of himself, trying to find out who he is and what his role in the world is. He is trying to understand the past while at the same time doing what he can to stay afoot in the present. His heart was dealt a horrific blow with the loss of his girlfriend and he is struggling still, even as he recalls nothing at all, to deal with a grief he can’t quite get his mind around. This is a story about trust, forgiveness and love.

Overall, The Raw Shark Texts is a fascinating novel. I admit there were a couple of more technical bits that I skimmed over. In those moments when I wondered, like my coworker, if I actually was enjoying the book, I only had to stop and consider how difficult it was to tear myself away from it and how easy it was to pick up and dive right back in again. Steven Hall definitely has created an unusual tale, unlike any other I have ever read. And the more I think about it, the more I like it.

Rating: * (Good +)

Check out the author’s website for more information about Steven Hall and his book.


  1. I have this on my TBR shelf right now. I'm hoping to get to it this fall. Great review!!


  2. Great review of what is obviously a complicated story. I'm putting this one on my wish list!

  3. This sounds very interesting desptie it's difficulties. I like Ian the cat!

  4. "And the more I think about it, the more I like it."

    I love books that do that. This sounds very interesting and very original!

  5. I absolutely love this description from the NY Times that you included: “a horror-dystopic-philosophical mash-up." You did a great job reviewing something that is better experienced!

  6. This sounds exactly like the kind of book that will drive me up a wall - but I-must-read-it. And my library has a copy! Awesome. I can pick it up tonight.

    And since I managed to miss your last five posts - that New Zealand book sounds interesting too, I too have to read John LeCarre this year and those books were all banned? People.

  7. Like Nymeth, I love when I like a book more as I think about it--there are too many books that I enjoy but set aside and don't think about again, but the ones that stick with me are the ones that still have me thinking when I'm through--those are the types of books that I love finding.

  8. Don't we all have this moment when we can't tell whether or not if we like the book? ;) I'm quite intrigued with the premise, it definitely sounds like one great mystery story to me. Might have to check this out. I love the cat too! ;)

  9. So it's like Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and The Bourne movies? Sounds interesting.

  10. Ohhhh...this soubnds really good to me!! Looks like I must add this one to the ol' TBR!! What a great review!!

  11. Lezlie - Thank you. I look forward to reading your thoughts on this one. I'm dying to know what someone else thinks of it.

    Lisa - Thanks. It definitely was complicated. I still find myself wondering about this book.

    Jaimie - Ian was the best! :-)

    Nymeth - I do too! They definitely are the kind of books that stay with a person longer.

    Terri - Thank you so much! I liked the description by the NY Times too. :-)

    Carrie K - There were definitely moments where I felt that way! Haha

    Which John Le Carre book are you planning to read?

    Trish - That is so true! I read quite a few books that I forget about as soon as I move onto the next. I can really appreciate those books that stay with me awhile and keep me thinking long after I set the book aside.

    Melody - I think we all do have moments like that. If you do decide to read it, I'll be curious to know what you think of it.

    Jen - I'm not quite sure I'd put it up there with The Bourne movies suspense wise, but it was a page turner. :-) I haven't yet seen Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. I was reminded a bit of Pan's Labyrinth though--the stories are completely different, but there was a reality vs unreality thing going on that reminded me of the movie as I read the book.

    Stephanie - Thanks. I hope you will read it!

  12. Wow, this sounds very interesting. maybe one day I will have the pleasure of reading this one. I am not sure whether I can score a review copy for my review blog, but still I am very much interested in this story. You reviewed it quite well. You didn't reveal anything specific.

  13. Oh this does sound interesting. I was going to say that the premise reminds me a bit of Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and I see Ladytink already did. I too love those books that you come appreciate more and to think about long after you've finished.

  14. As I like complicated stories, I think I will put this on my read list!

  15. Harry - Thank you! This really isn't a book you can say too much about without spoiling it. That would be neat if you could get a free review copy for your blog, but since it's out already and seems to be selling well, I'm not sure how possible that would be. You never know though.

    Nat - I really must see Sunshine of a Spotless Mind then, I see!

    Gautami - I hope you will enjoy it if you read it.

  16. I just finished the book last night, and jumped on here to search for other people's theories. Which is how I found this website!

    First... great review! I agree with so much of what you thought/ felt. Like, I found myself wondering a few times throughout, "is this really that good of a book?" And yet each night I found myself going to bed early to read... and staying up late to read! I think the hook is in that from page one this story is a mystery like nothing you've experienced before, and you drive yourself to the last page in trying to solve that mystery.

    'Experience', rather than 'read', is also another great explanation. I found myself thinking, "there's no good way a movie could be made out of this!"

    Also, I agree on the point that the more you think about it, the more you like it. As I finished the last page last night I thought, "THAT'S IT?!" I had so many more questions! But then, as you also said... "It is up to the reader to decide, something the author encourages and, for the most part, expects". And once I realized the answers weren't going to be handed to me... I couldn't sleep because my brain was working overtime, trying to come up with my own answers!

    I love mind-twisting books & movies such as this! I will watch Eternal Sunshine tonight! And may I suggest Mulholland Drive.

    Also... Ian! I too loved him! And, being a cat person, I thoroughly appreciated and completely understood all the descriptive passages on Ian. The way he'd move his ears to listen and ignore, the looks he'd give, his meows. He really was a great inclusion.

    The more I think about it the more I like it! Now I'm off to search others' thoughts as well!

  17. Anonymous - I did the exact same thing upon finishing this one. I got online and searched all over for reviews from others about it. It's one of those books that just cries out for discussion, doesn't it? I am glad to know that I am not alone in my reaction to this one.


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