01/11/2009. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Cannongate Books Ltd. 428 page hardback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84195-902-3.
check out website: www.canongate.net
'The Raw Shark Texts' is a debut novel that was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke award 2007. The best way of describing it is surreal.
The narrator, Eric Sanderson, wakes up on his bedroom floor with no memory whatsoever. He finds a note from himself telling him to contact a Dr Randle who will explain what is happening. She tells him that he has a dissociative disorder. Twelve months after his girlfriend died in an accident in Greece, he suffered from a memory loss. Over the past two years, he has had eleven recurrences of the situation and each time he has lost another segment of his memories. She also tells him not to read anything his former self may send him. He is able to resist for a while but packages and letters start arriving at regular intervals and as he cannot find anything in the house that will give him a clue as to the lost memories - except for the cat called Ian.
Eventually, he succumbs and opens and reads the accumulated letters and packages. Up until this point the novel could have been a study of how someone copes with this kind of disorder, but here the nature of the book changes. Eric learns that before the condition set it, he tried to find out exactly what had happened to his girlfriend, Clio. This led him to letting loose a Ludovician, a conceptual shark. This creature devours memories and is haunting Eric. The letters tell him how he can protect himself and suggest he tries to find Dr Trey Fidorous who is the expert on such creatures.
Taking Ian the cat in a cat basket, Eric tries to follow the trail taken by his first self. He learns more about conceptual fish and meets a girl who calls herself Scout. She rescues him from a bad situation and takes him into unspaces. These are kind of other dimensional places that go behind and between places. Their access to unspace is behind the H shelves in Waterstones.
Describing the style of the book is difficult. Author Steven Hall plays with words. We get glimpses of the Ludovician , a shape made from words. There is a flick book effect as on sequential pages it comes closer and closer. There are other sequences using word play as the only protection against conceptual sharks are words - either spoken or written. Lining the walls with yellow pages is a good defence.
This is a highly readable, intelligent book in the creating of which, the author had a lot of fun.
There are some readers that might quibble as to whether this is Science Fiction. The answer in this case is that the judging panel considered it to be SF, therefore it was. Psychology is a science of the mind. Psychology and mind games play are large part in this work of fiction. If you are still unsure, try saying the title aloud.
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