The Raw Shark Texts (book, Steven Hall, 2007)


A review of the slightly odd slipstream, Jaws-riffing The Raw Shark Texts. Read an interview with the author here. From Death Ray 06.

FOUR AND A HALF STARS

Steven Hall/Canongate

Fearless debut from puzzle-loving author. They call it slipstream fiction, but this is fantasy at its core…

There’s a no-place between contemporary fiction and SF, a murky Sargasso sea of uncertain boundaries. Some publicists call it slipstream, others anything provided the letters ‘S’ and ‘F’ do not show their faces.

But this cross-genre zone is the product of more than just disingenuous marketing. Somewhere in this confusion of words there’s a switch in the currents, things get jumbled up. The Raw Shark Texts is a fine example; a novel with the stylings of contemporary literature, but whose concepts are pure contemporary fantasy.

Eric Sanderson is a man may or may not be mad, who has been told by his psychiatrist that he’s suffering a disassociative fugue brought on by the death of his girlfriend. But letters begin arriving from his pre-amnesia self, telling him that, actually, an unreal shark that lives in a sea of concepts is eating his personality. Naturally, he doesn’t buy this until he is attacked, and he and his cat Ian hit the road to try and find a way to avoid death.

The artistry and personal immediacy with which Hall writes is impressive, (though he’s overly fond of made up compound verbs), and the book’s won a pile of glowing praise. Mostly deserved, even if a lot of the reviewers can’t have read much SF – it’s not unique in its imaginative verve.

Life forms made of ideas, compound personalities devouring the world, sympathetic magic – all very fantastical. But this is not a genre novel –  the central concept remains purposefully vague and contradictory. Philosophy is this book’s aim. It’s about heart not head, the art of being in the emotional real reflected in an, albeit bizarre, mirror of fiction. It’s not about surfing the unknown, and in this it’s pure lit-fic.

To this twain of literary style and the weird, Hall brings a third element, one of playful puzzles, sly references and puns. Together the three give a thoroughly entertaining mix of Jaws, ambiguous fantasy and cryptography of the soul. The interplay of flavour in this cocktail, and the sheer energy with which it is shaken and served, makes The Raw Shark Texts difficult to put down.

Did you know?

Eric Sanderson has a cat called Ian, a joke name deliberately intended to make people do a double-take. Steven Hall also has a cat. It is called Dave.

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