Thought-Sharks Escape Author’s Think-Tank; Readers Conceptually Endangered — The Raw Shark Texts — Book Review

The Raw Shark Texts
By Steven Hall
HarperCollins, Toronto, 2007

Steven Hall, whose artistry extends to theatre, music videos, conceptual art, and the written word, has broken beyond the boundary of imaginable possibility with his first novel. Fast-paced yet thought-provoking, The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall is the ultimate reading experience for those who wish to be engaged in the novel by the quality and accessibility of the prose, by the originality of the ideas, by the richness of the fictitious world. Creative, challenging, well-written, Hall’s book easily falls into the thriller category, appealing to a broad audience.

The Raw Shark Texts book cover

An unprecedented twist on a conventional plot element, memory loss, allows Hall to develop his main character twice. The Second Eric Sanderson, insecure but courageous and resourceful, sets out to discover the reason for his non-identity. He is guided by letters and clues left behind by the contrite First Eric Sanderson. The more the Second Eric Sanderson learns, the deeper he falls into a conceptual well of real, physical danger. He must, of course, defeat the thought-shark that has singled him out as its prey in order to save himself and the woman he loves. Colourful characters such as Dr. Trey Fidorous and Ian the cat permeate the story, adding comic relief and pathos to occasionally ironic or anticlimactic effect.

While The Raw Shark Texts‘s basic plot line is tired, Hall’s fresh approach to post-modern representations of reality, fantasy, and anything in between breathes new life into the genre. It initially appears, however, that Hall fails to reinvigorate the standard conclusion, faintly disappointing the reader after so much innovation. At the same time, the reader may ambiguously feel that a different outcome would have been too grueling to digest after consuming so much novelty. To overcome either of these feelings, one simply has to turn the page. Hall cleverly circumvents both these problems through a post-conclusion that continues to explore the question of conceptual beings.

The visual attractions of The Raw Shark Texts are equally interesting. The essence of Hall’s fiction is captured by the front cover’s shark-shaped die cut, which reveals lines of text, concretizing the idea of a conceptual shark. Moving sharks within the text break up the narrative with visual action, rendering a cinematic quality to the novel. Likewise, oddities and curiosities add to the book’s intrigue, distinct from the plot’s appeal. The Aquarium Fragment is apocryphal to the novel, shrouding it in mystery, giving it the feel of an authentic relic. The text that peeps through the cover’s die cut is also part of the fiction, treating the Fragment from a scholarly perspective. Thankfully, an index is generously provided, facilitating the reader’s task when it becomes necessary to verify the explanation of a concept.

With such a first novel as The Raw Shark Texts, Steven Hall has positioned himself to be soon reckoned as a powerful force in the literary arena.