Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Raw Shark Texts, Review

Just before Christmas our good friend Stephanie lent the hubby a book she'd just finished and loved. The particularly unusual moment was when her hubby was excited about it too, "no, no, don't flip through the pages, you'll give it away". I couldn't remember ever hearing Michael comment on a book, I just assumed he wasn't a big reader.
So we went home with The Raw Shark Texts in hand.


Once Ryan started it, he couldn't put the book down, and there was much appreciative oohhing and awwing being uttered at night as we lay in bed reading our respective books. When he was done he insisted I HAD to read it. And so somewhere between my second read of The Mortal Instruments and reading Going Bovine I sunk my teeth into Steven Hall’s first novel.


So I should really explain, before I get into what I thought of the book, how I read. I read everywhere, all the time, sometimes in 5 minute blurbs, sometimes in huge all day extravaganzas. I read on the transit system, on both my 15 minute coffee breaks, almost always on my 1 hr lunch, before going to bed, when home sick, when waiting for friends places, sometimes as I'm walking down the street, whenever I'm waiting for an appointment, on planes, in cars, sometimes in the kitchen while I’m cooking supper, often in the living room while the hubby plays video games, and frequently while sitting somewhere with a kitty in my lap. Sometimes I’ll be reading something that can't be broken up in so many little bite sized reading bits, and then it takes me three times as long and becomes arduous and not a little bit annoying. I mean, if I can't read it on my 15 minute coffee break what will I do with myself?


Part of why I can read anywhere is my innate ability to disappear into the world I'm reading about. For instance, the final Harry Potter came out while the Hubby and I were visiting family up in the remote Kootenays in B.C., and since we had a 5 hour flight to Toronto everyone was concerned with how we'd entertain ourselves. The Hubby promptly replied that I wouldn't mind, I would be at Hogwarts the whole time.
And he was right.


I set about reading The Raw Shark Texts in my regular manner, only to be come quickly confused, muddled and not a little bit bored. This is not a book I would recommend reading anywhere but someplace quiet with few, to no distractions. It is not your usual fiction escape; this book will need your undivided attention for you to keep up with it.


Part philosophical argument, part crazy science fiction with a large dose of dry graduate thesis, Steven Halls book will likely not be anything remotely similar to any story you've read before.


Eric Sanderson awakes with no memory of anything. He struggles to piece together his previous life with letters proclaiming they are from the "first Eric" and a shrink the "first Eric" suggests. But it isn't until he breaks the Shrinks cardinal rule, that he discovers the world as he knows it is not what it seems. Chased by one of the worst conceptual fishes known to those who understand these things, a Ludovician, Eric must travel into the dangerous outside world to find the Un-space exploration committee, in the hope of answers before the conceptual shark devours all that is left of his memories and thus self.


While reading the book I was unsurprised to learn that the author is also a conceptual artist as well as a playwright. The visuals and the world within the normal world of this story are stunning, so unique and crazy they rival the first time I saw The Matrix (which, lets be frank, was mind blowing at the time). The ideas and concepts that he proposes are fascinating, and I simply love his cat Ian.


On the down side I was frequently confused by his Meta, unspace, conceptual etc, etc, terminology. The wording had a tendency to make my eyes glaze over and make me think I was reading a philosophy textbook of the driest variety (and we already know how much I disliked that philosophy course). But this is where I have to reference how I read, which I think might have had a lot to do with the feeling. Sleepy morning Subway rides with people talking and sleeping and listening to loud music, surrounding you, is probably not the best place to follow the somewhat tricky material to the best of my ability. The hubby, reading only in the comforts of our home for time periods of no shorter than half an hour at a time, did not get the slightest bit lost or confused.


The Raw Shark Texts, a play on the Rorschach test, has many intricate layers. It has 36 chapters of challenging material, and another 36 lost sections to match. Known as un-chapters or negatives these have been found on the web, in the real world and occasionally in translated editions, apparently there were a couple in the edition we read but I wasn't aware of it while reading. Supposedly they're very much a part of the novel so I'm curious about their content, but not so curious to go hunting through all of the World Wide Web and England! Consider it added content for those who love that Lost style hunt for further info.
My final word on the book? Very intriguing, so different you have to read it just to see what it's about (like going to see Avatar in 3D), but be prepared to pay attention! No T.V or loud people in the background, no on-the-go reading!


And with a little big of perseverance I think you'll find it's quite an impressive novel, especially for an author’s first.


The Raw Shark Texts, By Steven Hall
Published by Canongate Press, April 2008

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