'The Raw Shark Texts': A Worthy Challenge
NOAH ADAMS, host:
Continuing now with books as reviewer Veronique de Turenne discovers, the first novel from British author Steven Hall is a challenge worth taking on, starting with the title - listen carefully - "The Raw Shark Texts."
VERONIQUE DE TURENNE: It all seems so familiar in "The Raw Shark Texts" when the lead character wakes up with amnesia - but don't fall for it. Author Steven Hall is exploring deep waters in his daring and exhilarating first novel, and they're shark infested - literally.
Eric Sanderson comes to on his bedroom floor, choking, with no memory of who or where he is. A letter he wrote to himself leads to a therapist who tells him he's a victim of a rare and recurring amnesia. She warns Eric not to open any of the mysterious packages arriving in his apartment. Terrified, he obeys. But then Eric's living room floor evaporates one night, turns into open ocean, where he's attacked by a massive shark. Eric escapes, just barely, and whatever's in those packages becomes his only hope for survival.
Hall is clearly having the time of his life with this book, playing with the concepts of memory and death and self. He carries us along in a headlong rush to test the very edge of what a novel actually is. There are familiar touchstones - the beautiful girl named Scout for a love story, a mad scientist to invent and explain and a cranky housecat named Ian for comic relief.
There is myth and movies, classic novels, philosophy and psychology, all served up with a hefty dose of pop culture. You'll find DNA from "Moby Dick" and "Memento," "Being John Malkovich" and "The Matrix," and, in the exuberant climax, "Jaws."
It's a frightening, funny and daring mess, sometimes earnest, occasionally pompous, and always wildly original. Here's Hall giving us the creeps with the slithery snake-like parasite of the mind.
(Reading) "It was small - maybe nine inches. Maybe the length of a worry that doesn't quite wake you in your asleep. A primitive, conceptual fish. I backed away slowly. The creature had a round, sucker-like mouth lined with dozens of sharp little doubts and inadequacies. I could feel it just downstream from me, holding itself in place with muscled, steady swimming against the movement of time."
The text itself tells a story. Inkblots, puzzles, pictures made from vowels and consonants strewn just so. The climax comes to life in an unnerving 50-page flipbook of a shark racing right at you. The typography is so complex, in fact, the print run was sent to a company in Italy, the only place with a press nimble enough to do the job. "The Raw Shark Texts" is a kind of Rorschach test. Is it a thriller, a love story? A philosophical quest? Yes. And it's the biggest of big fish stories. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.
ADAMS: The book is "The Raw Shark Texts" by Steven Hall. Our reviewer is Los Angeles writer Veronique de Turenne.
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