The Raw Shark Texts
by Steven Hall

by Ted Gioia

Eric Sanderson awakes with his memories
erased by a traumatic incident. He finds a
note in the foyer of his home, apparently
written by himself before his memory loss.
“If you are reading this,” the message states,
“I’m not around any more. Take the phone
and speed dial 1.”

The phone call brings him to a Dr. Randle, who tells Sanderson
that his amnesia is recurring, and has happened to him ten times
before – all as the result of his mental deterioration following the
death of his girlfriend. But Dr. Randle warns him: “In the past, you’
ve written and left letters for yourself to be read after a
recurrence. I must ask you -- and this is very important now, Eric
— under no circumstances, write or read anything like this.”

Soon a letter arrives from the “first Eric Sanderson,” advising him
not to trust Dr. Randle. “She is wrong about what is happening to
you, Eric. More important, she can neither help nor protect
you.” Dozens of these letters come in the following days, each
presenting more clues and puzzles. Sanderson is faced with the
decision of who to trust, what to believe.

The plot of Steven Hall’s debut novel
The Raw Shark Texts unlocks
like a Chinese puzzle box, each intriguing twist in the story
leading to even greater enigmas and a wider sphere of conspiracy
and risks. Soon Sanderson has more to deal with than just the
conflict between his doctor and his former self. Every few pages
we run into something even stranger than what’s happened
before: an odd package with a videotape of a lightbulb flashing on
and off, a cell phone call perhaps from his dead girlfriend, an
invitation to meet Mr. Nobody in a deserted building, clues found
on posters and the tiles of underpasses, and (of course) a deadly

Hall’s imagination is endless, and his ability to pull together these
provocative details and incidents into a coherent whole is
remarkable. And his creativity applies as much to the form as to
the content of
The Raw Shark Texts. The book includes various
exhibits, diagrams and typographical innovations, and these quirky
elements infuse the novel with a piquant avant-garde flavor.

This is not a conventional thriller, but an experimental novel that
builds on many of the devices of speculative fiction. Hall takes
chances at every corner, and some of his more daring leaps of
imagination will present challenges to the film-makers who will be
inevitably attracted to this story given its movie potential.
(Apparently Nicole Kidman was so excited by the story that she
tried to convince Hall to make the protagonist a woman so she
could play the role.) Yet,
The Raw Shark Texts is very much, as
the title suggests, a text, and its most potent moments are
conceptual and literary. Those looking for a mere roller-coaster
ride, or a shockfest in the manner of Stephen King, will be
surprised at how much more is involved in this multilayered book.

In short,
The Raw Shark Texts is a brilliant debut by a promising
author. Every so often, a work of imaginative fiction arrives —
such as Gibson’s
Neuromancer in 1984 or Stephenson’s Snow
in 1992 – that shakes things up and opens up a new universe
of possibilities.
The Raw Shark Texts is one of these works. Not
only will it be widely read. I expect it will be widely imitated.

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