I titled this post Book Thoughts, as opposed to Book Review, because I’ve come to the realization that I can not actually review this book. Please don’t take that to mean I didn’t enjoy it! On the contrary – I enjoyed it very much. I’ve planned to read Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts for several years, and when I finally managed to take it from the shelf and crack it open, what I discovered there was, well…complicated from a review standpoint.
In many ways, this book is exactly the sort of book I most enjoy: unusual, layered, surreal, heavy on metaphor and dealing with psychological and/or linguistic themes. It even has an amnesiac protagonist, and for whatever reason I have a weakness for those. But so much of this story is impossible to talk about without spoiling something. I’ve read a number of reviews that just ruin the whole thing, and I don’t want to add to that unfortunate trend. Nothing is as it seems in The Raw Shark Texts, and my attempts to dance around what is actually happening (as if I even know for certain what was happening…some questions remain on that count…) while still illuminating why I think someone might enjoy this title have not been successful. I always come up against a boundary between what I need to relate and what I can say without giving too much away. So I’m not going to stumble around a full review any longer.
I will let the Goodreads synopsis of the book speak for it, because I had no luck coming up with a better summary:
Eric Sanderson wakes up in a house one day with no idea who or where he is. A note instructs him to see a Dr. Randle immediately, who informs him that he is undergoing yet another episode of acute memory loss that is a symptom of his severe dissociative disorder. Eric’s been in Dr. Randle’s care for two years — since the tragic death of his great love, Clio, while the two vacationed in the Greek islands.
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. It will dazzle you, it will move you, and will leave an indelible imprint like nothing you have read in a long time.
That about covers it. Well, it covers about a tenth of what this book is actually about, at least. This is not only a memory loss novel but is also a weird mystery, a love story, a musing on pyschology, linguistics and reality, a “secret society” story, a horror novel, and an experimental title, with all sorts of interesting fiddling about with the text and font and structure. It was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award, which I suppose means some folks also feel it’s a science fiction novel. It won the Somerset Maugham Award and the Borders Original Voices Award, which suggest that I’m not alone in my admiration for the thing.
I would suggest this book to the following readers: fans of Haruki Murakami or David Mitchell or of books like House of Leaves, appreciators of surrealism, readers interested in language and its relationship to thought-forms, people who like strange, twisty quests full of unconventional characters, implausible truths and truly unusual peril, and those who are not turned off by the idea of CONCEPTUAL FISH. That last part is probably important.
That’s about the best I can do with this one, folks. As I am aware that I’m merely offering crumbs here, allow me to at least garnish the plate a bit. Check out this official Canongate Books video of the perpetually-awesome Tilda Swinton serving up a brief reading from the book. There are no spoilers here, as the section being read is part of a letter Erik sends to Erik-the-next. Although there is no actual plot involved in this passage, it does serve as a good example of the tone of the book.