(There might be very minor spoilers here but I doubt they will make any sense to you if you haven't read the book, so read on, unles you are uber-paranoid about spoilers)
“The Raw Shark Texts”. It’s supposed to be literary psychological thriller where Jorge Luis Borges meets Danielewski meets Matrix meets Fight Club meets Jaws. I thought: Oh dear. Steve, I hope you know what you are running up against and I hope your game is tight.
The book starts with the main character waking up on the floor not knowing who or where he is. His personal memory seems to have been wiped clean. This is a tried and tested opening that is sure to grip anyone from the first page. The problem with it is that you have to back it up. The book has to live up to its premise.
I give credit where credit is due – Steve Hall had a superb idea. Our narrator, Eric Sanderson, is hunted by a kind of conceptual fish (the kind of fish that lives in a purely abstract world and feeds on thoughts, ideas, memories). Somehow he stepped on the toe of the most dangerous conceptual fish out there – the Ludovician, a conceptual equivalent of the great white shark. And it eats his memory. Nom, nom, nom.
There are also very funny/scary (albeit gimmicky) typographical illustrations in the text. They even looked cute on my kindle.
While I think the idea was brilliant, I feel there was a little of wasted opportunity there. We are made to understand that the way to fight the shark (or at least to keep it at bay, so to speak) is to use so some sort of flow of information to throw him off your scent and set up a conceptual loop which works like a shark cage. And our hero uses other people’s post and Dictaphones to do that. Dictaphones? What is it, 1985? What else? Maybe he should fax the shark as well?
Why not set up some computers with facebook and twitter accounts that would constantly get new followers and feedback to each other ad infinitum. Perfect conceptual loop! Or why throw ‘letter bombs’ (made of shredded phone books and such) at your shark? Why not treat it with a stream of penis enlargement and Russian brides spam? That should send it all the way back to last century. Why go through other people’s post where you can just download their blogs, twitters, tumblrs, facebooks, and emails? I mean, if I were looking for tons of pointless information, the Internet would be the first place I would go to.
But fine, Steve. I am with you. Let’s party like it’s 1985, Dictaphones and all. So I am suspending my disbelief, conceptual sharks, some zombie like figures, Un-space (yeah, me neither) until Hall introduces Eric’s love interest in its two incarnations Scout and Clio. And boy, oh, boy, ain’t she a dream come true for any nerdy boy? She’s got boobs and likes to show them, she knows about computers, rides a motorcycle, and talks like she is reading a sitcom script. She never mentions kids or marriage. She is a superhero but also slightly damaged inside so can be occasionally protected. She is Lara Croft meets Leelo from the Fifth Element. And here comes the love story with the extra cheese on top. Here comes the melodrama when Eric decides to sulk for half of the book over something that a PMSing sixteen year old girl would have a hard time sulking over for longer than 40 minutes. I can’t take this. I shout : “Jeez louise, Steve, what are you doing? Why are you doing it?”.
And then at the end, Steve tells my why he was doing it. And it makes sense, and I get it. And he knew that I knew, but I didn’t know that he knew that I knew. And ha, ha, the joke is on me. But you know what, Steve, I could’ve stopped reading there and then if I wasn’t so OCD about finishing every book that I start. I really do get it, but I still don’t know why I was forced to read 100 or so pages of that bad soap-opera. So there goes one star from what could’ve been a four star book.
And then of course there is the ending... Oh.