#46 – The Raw Shark Texts

September 6, 2007

i guess we’ll forget the sound, i guess, i guessThere are some books which completely defy description; which are so unique that any attempt to describe the plot to someone who hasn’t read it completely fails to illustrate the actual quality of the story.  If I was to tell you that Steven Hall’s debut novel, The Raw Shark Texts, was about a man who’s being chased by a conceptual shark made of words and ideas that is trying to eat his memories, you’d probably say “That book sounds stupid, and you are stupid for liking it.”  And if it was from a less talented author, then yeah, you’d be right to do so.  But somehow, Hall pulls this off, and makes a lot of inconceivable concepts seem natural on the page.

Something like this, even though it’s one of the most original books in recent memory, can only be described by points of reference.  Mark Haddon, in a blurb on the book’s cover, claims that it’s “the bastard love child of The Matrix, Jaws and The Da Vinci Code”, and somehow an insane description like that makes sense the more of The Raw Shark Texts you read.  I personally would add that it’s Jurassic Park as written by Jasper Fforde, and throw in comparisons to Memento, House of Leaves, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  And maybe a bit of Jaws 4: The Revenge for good measure.

My only complaint, like in so many books which try interesting new things, is that Hall didn’t do enough with them.  One of the villains here, an entity called Mycroft Ward (wink) which is trying to absorb every person on Earth (wink, nudge) was fascinating, and I wish it had been explored a bit more; it probably could have been a whole book on its own.  I don’t like to have things spelled out for me, though, and Hall is for the most part very good at releasing exactly the right amount of information.  The narrator’s slow discoveries about the dangers he faces are great, and I absolutely loved the vague epilogue which raises new questions about the entire preceding story – one unexplained reference to a real-world British scientist suddenly creates an entirely new take on the book.

I still consider it to be my mission in life to get as many people to read House of Leaves as possible, and not to belittle Hall’s writing at all, but I think I’ll start recommending this one as an introduction to those who might be intimidated by Mark Z. Danielewski’s masterpiece.  Both books have the same sense of urgency, and the unimaginable threat the characters in both face is an obvious similarity.  But Hall’s writing is much more accessible than Danielewski’s intentionally dense prose, and the finale of The Raw Shark Texts feels very familiar to the reader and yet somewhat alien, to great effect.  Even outside of a Danielewski primer, though, it’s well worth reading.



  1. See, I knew I needed to get my hands on this book. I’m waiting with bated breath for the paperback. I’m looking forward to your comeback! (I’m late, I know – but, I’ve been off the blogosphere of late myself and I’m just getting back into the swing of things). Have a great semester!

  2. Thanks, J.S.! I can’t even think about starting to read something new right now, but I’ll still be around, getting recommendations for NEXT year.

    Have you read Mark Z. Danielewski before?

  3. I tried to write up a synopsis for this one, and you’re right, it really defies description. I re-read what I wrote and thought Wow, that sounds so stupid! Hall created some great characters and managed to make them very real. I think in time Hall could become a great writer. I hope he does.

  4. You’re absolutely right, Eighth Art. It’s one of those books that I always find myself trying to recommend to people half drunk at parties, and I always make them sound dumb or insane, usually both. All you can do is say “It’s good, trust me.” Raw Shark Texts is an incredibly strong debut, I’ll also be waiting patiently for Hall’s next effort. Thanks for stopping by, I like your site!

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