Discussion location: The Woodman’s – a popular, and maybe long term, choice

Chosen by: Rachael

Reason for choice: She was blown away by how different the book is in comparison to other books.  In her top 5 books of all time list.

Review (*Warning: Contains spoilers*):

The Raw Shark Texts, Steven Hall’s debut novel, is a widely celebrated work of meta-fiction. Using a popular literary trope, we meet the novel’s amnesiac protagonist Eric Sanderson as he wakes up on his living room floor with no idea of who he is and no memories. His previous self, “the first Eric Sanderson”, leaves him a series of letters to explain his condition, one that his doctor, Dr. Randle, believes is “severe dissociative disorder” – the result of his girlfriend and one-true-love Clio dying during a holiday to Greece, and which the first Eric believes to be a vicious attack by a memory thief – a dangerous conceptual shark named the Ludovician.

We then follow Eric on his epic quest to find conceptual shark expert Dr. Trey Fidorious so he can discover how to defeat the shark. In an abandoned hospital, he meets Mr. Nobody and a shark and is rescued by love interest Scout, on her own shark-hunting expedition. Eric, pet cat Ian, and Scout then embark on a journey down the back of bookcases into “unspace” to find Trey and beat the Ludovician. The novel ends with a conceptualized version of the Jaws’ shark battle, and an ambiguous news article and postcard from Eric.

The big question throughout is whether Eric’s perceptions are reality or some crazed imaginings, or a mixture of the two. We even tried to pinpoint where reality turns into imagination, where the letters came from, and whether Scout was really there (we’re certain she was, as the lady at the B&B says “you two eat up” pg 168). We looked for clues that may not have been there, and debated whether Mycroft Ward was a mental health unit. One clue is in the novel’s title, a play on the psychological Rorschach tests, which can be used to detect underlying thought disorder, one type being delusions.

I’ve probably said this before, but we like a bit of conventionality in our books, so most of us preferred the more grounded parts of the novel (the first half) rather than the more fantastical parts (the second half). Terms such as “dream-like”, “nonsensical”, and “unbelievable” were banded around. Despite being fairly well written and fairly lengthy, some parts needed to be more detailed (back story perhaps) for us to fully buy in. Perhaps the back story and fleshing out we seeked is in the 36 “unchapters”, an interesting concept in itself, hidden on the Internet and left lying around by the author.

The novel has been described by many as “original”. In a sense, they’re right, not just due to the unchapters mentioned above. In another sense, it’s the Frankenstein’s monster of a plethora of other films and books, some of which have been widely documented in reviews.  As well as the obvious allusions to Jaws, Casablanca (the author’s favourite love story), and the Matrix, it’s also reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, Being John Malkovich, and American Gods.  In fact, in 2009, a screenplay was written of the novel, but 5 years later and no film has appeared. Perhaps the book is too conceptual (not that that stopped the makers of The Lovely Bones).

It’s not all bad – we enjoyed the illustrations. We also liked some of the concepts, such as smaller fish nibbling his mom and dad, all your cells being replenished after seven years so are you really the same person (?), and the earth always moving so you’re never in the same place. What’s more, we just luurrved Ian the cat. Actually, perhaps the biggest question, the one that Steven Hall really needs to answer is: what happened to Gavin, the other cat?

Overall score: 6/10

A conceptual shark too far…