the raw shark texts

Just when you thought it was safe to go back…

“I was unconcious. I’d stopped breathing.”

Every so often, and with increasing frequency, I stumble across a book with an idea so great that I become consumed with jealousy that I didn’t get there first. It’s already happened this year with The Magicians and The Dinner, and now here again with Hall’s so-far-only novel, The Raw Shark Texts.

Recommended by a friend, I found my copy in a second hand store and thought I’d give it a go. Despite said friend not steering me wrong in literary choices before (he’s the reason for my small but solid fondness for Paul Auster), I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this book. Basically, I didn’t think I was going to be keen. The blurb was vague, flicking through revealed cheap but attractive tricks and and I wondered what sort of thing I was getting myself in for.

I needn’t have worried.

Eric Sanderson wakes up without his memories, with no idea of where he is, how he got there, or who he is. He finds a note from himself telling him to go to Dr Randle and she will explain things to him. She explains that this is the eleventh time he’s done this, and each time he sees her, he has fewer and fewer of his memories. She also tells him not to read any letters or messages from his past selves as they may be dangerous. She also gently lets him know that his mental issues began after his girlfriend, Clio Aames, died while they were on holiday in Greece.

Eric returns to as normal a life as he can manage, just him and his fat ginger tom Ian, and a year later, he’s feeling pretty stable, busily ignoring the almost constant stream of letters and packages from his past self, putting them in the kitchen cupboard and not reading them. However, when his television tries to attack him and it becomes clear that something very strange is happening, he begins to read.

Thus begins his journey of discovery. He is being hunted by a conceptual shark, a Ludovician, a creature that exists in his mind and feeds on his memories. Life will find a way, as Darwin said, and now life has formed inside language and thought, and some of it is very dangerous. He discovers someone else who can help him, Dr Trey Fidorus, the world’s only cryptoconceptual oceanologist, and sets off to find him, taking Ian with him. From then on, things only get more and more complicated…

The idea of a conceptual shark is absolutely breathtaking and beautiful in equal measure. There is in fact and entire ecosystem of conceptual creatures, some of which we meet over the course of the novel, others that are merely discussed or hinted at. The novel uses innovative forms to really add impact to the writing, such as including diagrams, codes, letters spaced out across the page in unusual patterns and, most fascinatingly of all, a shark made of words and letters, stalking Eric and the reader through several otherwise blank pages.

The ending, annoyingly, feels a little bit flat to me, leaving a few questions still outstanding, but I can live with it. It ends on a note of hope, and the preceding events more than make up for an excellent story which involves a man determined to live forever, a cavern system made of paper and the most enchanting cat in recent fiction.

Neil Gaiman fans will get a lot out of this, but then again I think anyone can. Anyone who believes in the power of words and books the way I do will also find great comfort here.

An outstanding, beautiful, excellently-crafted read.