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The Raw Shark Texts: A Novel Paperback – April 11, 2008

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best of the Month, March 2007: Not since Fight Club have a I read a book that sizzled with such fierce originality and searing vision as Steven Hall's electrifying debut novel, The Raw Shark Texts. It's a twisting, trippy thriller that tears through the landscape of language, revealing the lurking terrors uncovered in every letter of the written word. Steven Hall swims in the same surreal waters as pop-culture pioneers David Lynch and Michel Gondry, and The Raw Shark Texts deserves to be shelved somewhere between Trainspotting and Life of Pi. It pulls you under like a riptide, leaving you exhausted, exhilarated, and gasping for air.

But don't just take our word for it. We asked Audrey Niffenegger, one of the most creative contemporary writers working today, to share with readers her take on Steven Hall's debut novel, The Raw Shark Texts. Check out her exclusive Amazon guest review below. --Brad Thomas Parsons

Guest Reviewer: Audrey Niffenegger

Audrey Niffenegger is a professor in the Interdisciplinary Books Arts MFA Program at the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. A visual artist, she shows her artwork at Printworks Gallery in Chicago. The Time Traveler's Wife, her first novel, was an international bestseller and was one of's Best Books of 2003. It won several awards and is being made into a major motion picture. Her visual novels, The Three Incestuous Sisters and The Adventuress, were recently published by Harry N. Abrams. Miss Niffenegger is currently hard at work on her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, a ghost story set in London's Highgate Cemetery.

Eric Sanderson has lost his memory, his girl, his life as he once knew it. His pre-amnesiac self is sending him letters, a sort of correspondence course on how to be Eric Sanderson. Unfortunately, this previous self didn't really have it all together either. This is too bad, because the source of all the trouble is a conceptual shark, a Ludovician shark, no less. Soon Eric is on the run, trying to piece it all together and find true love before his mind gets wiped by the shark for the twelfth and probably final time.

Steven Hall is an inventive, funny and extremely smart writer. I am a letterpress printer and a typophile, and I was drawn to his book because of the typography: The Raw Shark Texts is riddled with typographic games, codes, a flip book, and a boatload of very elegant plot devices that hinge on collisions between the Information Age and the imagination. At one point Eric and Scout, his guide/love interest, are speeding away from the conceptual shark on a motorbike. Scout eludes the shark by exploding a letter bomb, a bomb made out of old metal type; the type diverts the shark into a stream of random letterforms. At this I practically fell off the couch with admiration.

There's plenty to groove on in The Raw Sharks Texts even if you're not a type maven. There's echoes of Cyberpunk, Borges, Auster; there is adventure on the high seas, lost love, an exploration of what it means to be human in the age of intelligent machines. The Raw Sharks Texts is huge fun, and I gleefully recommend it. --Audrey Niffenegger

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Hall's debut, the darling of last year's London Book Fair, is a cerebral page-turner that pits corporeal man against metaphysical sharks that devour memory and essence, not flesh and blood. When Eric Sanderson wakes from a lengthy unconsciousness, he has no memory. A letter from "The First Eric Sanderson" directs him to psychologist Dr. Randle, who tells Eric he is afflicted with a "dissociative condition." Eric learns about his former life—specifically a glorious romance with girlfriend Clio Aames, who drowned three years earlier—and is soon on the run from the Ludovician, a "species of purely conceptual fish" that "feeds on human memories and the intrinsic sense of self." Once he hooks up with Scout, a young woman on the run from her own metaphysical predator, the two trek through a subterranean labyrinth made of telephone directories (masses of words offer protection, as do Dictaphone recordings), decode encrypted communications and encounter a series of strange characters on the way to the big-bang showdown with the beast. Though Hall's prose is flabby and the plethora of text-based sight gags don't always work (a 50-page flipbook of a swimming shark, for instance), the end result is a fast-moving cyberpunk mashup of Jaws, Memento and sappy romance that's destined for the big screen.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate U.S. (April 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847671748
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847671745
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 47 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on March 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Lots of it's good, so let's start with that part. It gets off to an ordinary start - the protagonist has amnesia, so it could be about anything or nothing. It happened just after the death of a wonderful young woman who had taken him into his life. Then peculiarities emerge. This isn't usual amnesia, it recurs. He has these attacks.

He is attacked, it turns out. Something, equal parts philosophical abstraction and carnivore, has chosen Eric Sanderson as prey. With this revelation, we're down the rabbit hole and into a rubbery fantasy world. It's a world like none you've ever seen before, where information turns solid and solid objects are subject to debate. Characters develop reasonably well, with the exception of Mycroft Ward. The writing gets a bit overheated at times and the concept has soft spots, but both progress toward a satisfying end, one that has elements of "Griffin & Sabine" and Gaiman's "Neverwhere," but is wholly its own creature.

There's enough here to keep a reader moving along. If your imaginative "inner voice" moves its lips when it reads, there can be a lot to enjoy. I found a few points grating, though, and a tighter story would have been a better one. It's good, though. Some readers will get a lot from this one.

//wiredweird, reviewing a complimentary copy
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Jolley HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
When is the last time you read an "I woke up with amnesia" novel that was actually original and unique? Probably never - unless you've read Steven Hall's debut novel, The Raw Shark Texts. Hall totally unleashes the power of words and memories in the form of a Ludovician, a powerful conceptual fish that swims in the streams of human experience and communication, a devourer of memories that, should it focus on one specific individual, will not stop pursuing that unlucky victim until he has taken everything that made that individual the person he/she was. A person's only real defense against this most relentless of pursuers is the establishment of a non-divergent conceptual loop, a bubble in the pathways of human interaction that hides the individual from the tell-tale signs of cause and effect. No matter how many words and concepts you wrap around yourself, though, you can't hide forever, not from this predator.

Eric Sanderson wakes up, face down on the carpet, with no self-identity or personal memories - but he does have a note instructing him to immediately call a Dr. Randle for help. According to the doctor, his is a rare case of disassociative disorder mixed with psychotropic fugue, its root cause tracing back to the death of a lover named Clio Aames two years earlier. Eric's former self is forgotten but not exactly gone, however, as letters from the First Eric Sanderson arrive almost daily. Eric ignores these communications on Dr. Randle's orders - until, that is, a most frightening and unexplainable event shakes the foundations of his newly rekindled world. Learning of the Ludovician-based danger he is in, Eric eventually sets off to retrace his former self's steps in an attempt to find the one man who might be able to help him, the mysterious Dr. Trey Fidorous.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By D. A. on July 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Okay, let's start with the title. Raw Sharks Texts. Wow, must be a play on "Rorscharch test" Cool, huh? Well, not so fast. What is a "raw shark"? There's a shark in the book, but it's not raw, per se. In fact, the idea of "rawness" is never mentioned in the book. In other words, the title is fun and seemingly clever but in reality, it's a strained, ersatz clever.

That's my overall take on the book: fun and seemingly clever but at the end of the day, strained and in the end, not very fulfilling.

The writing is clear and easy to read (at least in the first half). In fact, it pulls you forward. Partly that's because the main character is very likable. And the semiotic/sci fi elements are fun.

But it's also because you want to know how Hall is going to wrap it all up in the end without resorting to the obvious. Alas he clearly couldn't figure out how to do that, so he didn't. You're left with two possible endings, neither of which is satisfying alone (one being obvious and the other being a non-ending). These endings are supposed to be more satisfying because you get two of them.

The second half is confusing (and dull) and the great tension between the two main characters is hard to fathom.

I did love the idea of primitive creatures emerging in the morass of data floating around us--the recapitulation of evolution in conceptual form, but the idea is essentially dropped for a second plot line that goes basically nowhere. Ah, but is there a nowhere or is everywhere nowhere and nowhere is always here?

The one word that reviewers seem to use most when describing The Raw Shark Texts is memorable, and indeed I think it shall be. That is to say, I imagine I will remember the book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mark Eremite VINE VOICE on June 18, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When he is shown an inkblot as part of a Rorschach test, Charly, the protagonist of Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon says the line I quote in my review title. Charly is mentally handicapped, and can't use his imagination the way others can. He can't visualize what the ink MIGHT be, just what it is.

Steven Hall's debut novel is a clever play on that psychological trope, right down to the title (RAW SHARK TEXTS = Rorschach tests), and although it is one of the most intelligent and imaginative books I've read in a long time, by the time I was done, all I saw was ink. Lemme explain.

The story is about Eric Sanderson who wakes up with amnesia. A cliched but always compelling opener. As he tries to piece his life together, he runs into a suspicious psychotherapist, a doctor of language and memes, a curiously helpful Scout, and a host of predatory sea creatures. Except, the sea creatures don't technically exist, at least not on any kind of tangible plain. The only clear way to put it? Imagine an imagination. Now imagine that the imagination eats ideas. Can you picture it? Or do you only see ink?

Hall has tried to combine psychological wordplay with science fiction with a love story at sea. He has tossed in some vague Samurai history, a lot of literary landmarks and allusions, and a fantastical thriller masquerading as mystical solipsism. Sorry. I'm getting opaque. Must be the book. The point being, unlike his antagonist, Hall doesn't have several layers of razor sharp teeth, and I'm afraid he has bitten off more than he can chew.
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