The Raw Shark Texts
Why is it that the invariably male heroes of original and disturbing sci-fi stories always have love interests that are the flattest of characters? Sam Lowry's Jill in "Brazil", Truman Burbank's Sylvia in "The Truman Show" and Leonard's nameless wife in "Memento", all share a sketchiness that seems almost unavoidable in this type of narrative.
Steven Hall's "The Raw Shark Texts", a tale of conceptual fish and lost memories, is no exception to the rule. You can't really blame hero Eric Sanderson not remembering Clio Aames on his amnesia, because the apparent love of his life is truly forgettable all by herself. As for the rest of the novel, well, that all depends on how much you're willing to go along with its bizarre premises.
Sanderson wakes up in his house with no memories whatsoever, but soon discovers that he is on the run from a Ludovician, a type of shark that is not exactly like other fish. This one consists not of teeth and gills but of thoughts and ideas &em;but that doesn't seem to make it any less deadly. It can pop up anywhere, but there are ways to defend yourself against it. Like a geeky Roy Scheider, Eric flees, investigates and ultimately confronts the Great White on a journey of self-discovery in the most literal sense of the word, helped by a few friends he finds along the way.
This book has lots of problems. For one, its fantastical imaginations beg not so much a suspension of disbelief as a suspension of stupefied, head-shaking amazement. What saves such incredibility is normally a well-written story that pulls you in.
But this novel is written in a wooden, artificially experimental style. Hall produces countless new compound nouns, finds typography endlessly fascinating and overuses the apparently mind-bogglingly original construction 'a <sentence> <noun>' (as in 'a fucked if I know gesture').
What's more, the novel is full of great ideas, but without much of a storyline to string them together. Rather, the protagonist moves from one place to the next in road movie fashion, his personality as blank as those of the people around him. Hall forgets what the makers of that gem of weirdness, the "Lost" TV series, remember: in the end, it's about the people, not the strange stuff that happens to them. I felt no empathy for Eric Sanderson because he failed to convince as a human being.
If this all sounds too negative, it's because I don't want to give away the small pearls of inventiveness you can find in this book. If you like somewhat brainy prose and could care less for style or round characters, you might very well enjoy this book, and I wouldn't want to spoil it to you. For the rest of us, there's better fare out there.