The Raw Shark Texts
A shark is scary. A conceptual shark is scary and weird. A man wakes up panicking in an unfamiliar house. He has total amnesia. A note instructs him to call a doctor and say that he is Eric Sanderson. The doc tells him that this is his 11th episode and each time he's worse than before. He discovers via letters from "The First Eric Sanderson" that a Ludovician, a memory shark, is feeding on him, eating his memories and personality. Ludovicians are the apex predators in the information ocean, demons of the depths of thought and communication.
Right from the start of this debut novel, Steven Hall throws you into the deep end. As the involutions of the story begin to unfold you discover Eric has a dead fiancée, Clio Aames, and winds up with a hot new girlfriend, Scout, who is some kind of alternate version of Clio. Thanks to letters from his former self, Eric learns to hide from the shark. Other people's mail in his jacket confuses his data-scent, Dictaphones configured in a "conceptual loop" function as a shark cage in which he sleeps, and so on. His first encounter with the Ludovician is a convincing mélange of terror and innovation.
Inevitably the hunted becomes the hunter as Eric seeks to turn the tables on the fish. Aided by Scout and a reclusive and recalcitrant sage, Eric sets sail on a conceptual ocean armed with a digital harpoon. Along the way there are some great ideas: a dissolving man, a journey across England through "unspace," and the climactic shark fishing trip in a boat made out of old computers. Hall's most charming conceit is an entire labyrinth constructed from books, including a cathedral space with walls of old telephone directories. The climax is an inch-perfect re-creation of Jaws for the information age.
Stylistically akin to Douglas Coupland, and sharing some concepts with Jeff Noon's Vurt series, The Raw Shark Test is inevitably being compared to reality/identity-bending movies such as The Matrix and Memento. A more valid benchmark for Hall's novel is found in Charles Williams' novels, such as Place of the Lion and The Greater Trumps.
Rough in spots, flashy in others--and gratingly zeitgeisty enough to have the author's MySpace page flagged on the jacket along with boasts about the movie rights being sold--Raw Shark is still an eminently readable and clever thriller with some captivating ideas. You do have to wonder how a screenwriter will handle passages like this: "Less than fifty yards behind us and keeping pace, [with a speeding motorbike] ideas, thoughts, fragments, story shards, dreams, memories were blasting free of the grass in a high speed spray . . . something was coming up through the foam a curved and rising signifier, a perfectly evolved idea fin."
It's a flawed and glitchy novel, but very charming; a page-turner in the old-fashioned sense, with lovable characters, convincing relationship banter, some actual scares from time to time, lots of tension, and a cat named Ian. Less fashionably, but more excitingly, there's an actual plot and a real ending.