The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

“I was unconscious. I’d stopped breathing.
I don’t know how long it lasted, but the engines and drivers that keep the human machine functioning at a mechanical level must have trip-switched, responding to the stillness with a general systems panic. Autopilot failure – switch to emergency manual override.
This is how my life started, my second life.”

When I first picked up The Raw Shark Texts (wordplay on Rorschach test), I read the whole book in nearly one sitting. Ok, granted, if you want the longer story, I was on the island of Aitutaki in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, on my own in the whole accommodation and it was raining. No TV, no radio, no computer, no internet, just me, the rain and a few geckos for company. And a shelf full of half a dozen books.


The story is of Eric Sanderson, a man who is suffering from severe amnesia. He remembers nothing of who he is, where he is, or the house he has awoken in. All he has are letters claiming to be from who he was before and explaining the death of his girlfriend, Clio, which led to his present state. However, Eric is in danger, he has been targeted by a Ludovician, a conceptual shark, swimming in the sea of knowledge, which feeds off memories. The letters, although they show Eric how to protect himself, lead him into a murky world of the mind and the abstract. Where he attempts to discover how far Eric Sanderson was willing to go to bring back Clio.

The Raw Shark Texts is, well, it’s a strange novel, certainly ambitious, clever and incredibly immersive. But it’s still a very strange novel. The concepts that Hall encourages you to envision are, well, I think the most helpful thing I can do is compare it to Gaarder’s Sophie’s World (although obviously without the heavy introductions into philosophy). You are never quite sure whether Hall is telling you to take everything literally, and that these mental fish are real, or whether they are indicative of Eric’s state of mind. And just to confuse things, the ending refuses to confirm nor deny any suspicions you may have either way.

But that didn’t bother me, I enjoy stories where the author encourages the reader to leave with their own interpretation in their head. I feel it creates a richer experience and a more immersive story (like Choose Your Own Adventure! but less lame). The plot was easy to follow, as I said, your interpretation may differ from mine (hence, Rorschach test), but that doesn’t detract from what happens in the novel.

I found the characters to be realistic, especially when Hall even appears to partake in some meta-writing: “Stories are all we’re ever left with in our head or on paper: clever narratives put together from selected facts, legends, well edited tall stories with us in the starring roles. I’ve read the journal so many times now the lines are all wooden and obvious, as unrealistic as a daytime soap or a famous Hollywood movie you’ve seen a thousand times.” It’s just so indicative of characters that always have a witticism on hand, despite enjoying it, something the film Juno is guilty of. Hall does indulge in it himself, but that quotation makes up for it.

The writing was light and fun, not too purple, but nor is it sloppily written. Hall can enjoy the infodumping, but, seeing as the main character has lost his memory, it makes sense within the story and flows well. At no point did I feel overwhelmed with new information, Hall ensures that it is spread out over the course of the novel, and given at points where you crave to find out just exactly what The Backstory is.

Perhaps what I enjoyed most about the story is the cat. Whoops, short reverse there. Eric Sanderson has a cat. Not a dog who follows him faithfully, but a cat who he has affection for, and has to look after. A cat whom he has to lug about in a cat carrier so he doesn’t run off, feed and actually toilet. Not only does this give me a warm fuzzy feeling (yay cats), but, well, it’s different, isn’t it? I found it more indicative that Eric Sanderson used to have a real life with responsibilities, and that just doesn’t evaporate because the Story Demands It.

Plus, kitties.

The likelihood I’d read this book again? Definitely. I enjoyed it, it was light reading, but not so light to be brain candy. Enjoyable, interesting and contemplatively different and away from the norm. I’d definitely encourage everyone, if not to buy, then certainly get out of the library and read.

Rating: four out of five books

four out of five


Next time: A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick, no promises on when, I’m afraid, as I’m packing up to go back to university.

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  1. Puppet on 21 September 2009, 19:16 said:

    Are the books you review random?

    Good review, you can stop crying now.

  2. NeuroticPlatypus on 21 September 2009, 21:16 said:

    yay cats

    I agree. Cats are very underused.

    This sounds really interesting. I like different, strange books. I think I’ll move it to the top of my “Books to Read” list.

    Great review, Jeni.

  3. swenson on 21 September 2009, 22:25 said:

    I love reading your reviews! They’re always so good, and about less-than-well-known books that sound so interesting. Keep writing them, please!

  4. Romantic Vampire Lover on 22 September 2009, 01:37 said:

    Nice, Jeni. The book certainly sounds quite different, and I’d be interested in giving it a go.

  5. Dan Locke on 23 September 2009, 15:15 said:

    “To confirm nor deny” should be “to confirm or deny”. “Neither confirm nor deny” would also be appropriate.

  6. Steph (what is left) on 21 August 2010, 10:22 said:

    I love this book. It’s pretty awesome. It’s like kids’ fiction for adults in that it just plays merry hell with anything it can.

  7. instagram online on 25 March 2019, 01:00 said:

    Thank you for reviewing the book! I hope to hear more news from you.