Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
FIRST THINGS FIRST, STAY CALM.
If you are reading this, I’m not around anymore. Take the phone and speed dial 1. Tell the woman who answers that you are Eric Sanderson. The woman is Dr Randle. She’ll understand what has happened and you will be able to see her straight away. Take the car keys and drive the yellow Jeep to Dr. Randle’s house. If you haven’t found it yet, there’s a map in the envelope – it isn’t too far and it’s not hard to find.
Dr Randle will be able to answer all your questions. It’s very important that you go straight away. Do not pass go. Do not explore. Do not collect two hundred pounds. The house keys are hanging from a nail on the banister at the bottom of the stairs, don’t forget them.
With regret and also hope,
The First Eric Sanderson
Just look at that for a blurb. How good does that book sound?! Add to it a note on the back billing The Raw Shark Texts as “Jaws meets The Matrix meets The Da Vinci Code” and my expectations were super high. Like so many others, I’ve had the book on my shelves for ages. At the end of last year when I’d already decided that 2019 would be the year I finally focussed properly on reading the books already on my shelves, I picked this up as the first of the bunch because I was almost certain I’d love it. Spoiler alert: I didn’t really.
The start was excellent. Eric Sanderson wakes up in a house he doesn’t recognise and can’t remember a thing about who he is or how he got there. He receives a letter that purports to be from himself in the past (‘The First Eric Sanderson’) and is left to try and unravel the mysteries of himself and his life. The writing is sharp and hugely entertaining and there’s plenty of plot to go at. It felt like a real ‘cult movie’ of a book and I was genuinely excited to be reading it.
“I did not know who I was. I did not know where I was.
Within 100 pages, I was confused and a bit grumpy. While I do love fantasy and science fiction and some magical realism, I found the plot of The Raw Shark Texts baffling. I just couldn’t get a handle on what was going on. I’m not sure how much to say without straying into spoiler territory. Eric finds out early on that he is believed to have lost his memories following an accident in which his girlfriend was killed and in dealing with the loss somehow managed to attract the attention of a “conceptual shark” called a Ludovician which “feeds on human memories and the intrinsic sense of self”. I think I liked what the shark was there to represent but it was all frankly just too off the wall for me, the novel eventually coming to feel like an overworked extended metaphor.
I didn’t put the book aside because there was always enough that I was enjoying to keep me reading. Eric’s relationship with a vaguely mysterious character called Scout, the cat called Ian who was the most perfect illustration of a cat I’ve ever read, and the development of Eric’s character as he tries to work out what kind of person he is and how he fits in the world, including how he reacts to those who knew the first Eric Sanderson and want to imprint that Eric’s personality onto this later Eric. There were plenty of moments, though, where I was just reading the words on the page and not really engaging with them. They were abstract and bonkers and didn’t translate themselves into anything like meaning in my head. Or where they did, it was just weird. Not dissimilar to when somebody is trying to tell you about a dream they had.
You know those books where in the last couple of pages there’s something that changes how you see everything that’s gone before? Those reveals that make you realise that what you thought you were reading was perhaps something else entirely? I hate them. I don’t like labouring over a book that makes no sense while you’re reading it only to have an author show me in the last two pages what was going on. While I might eventually come to acknowledge that the book was clever, my main takeaway will still almost always be how annoying the reading experience was. That’s The Raw Shark Texts. While I can objectively admire a lot of what Steven Hall does with the pages of the book and the ultimate fate of Eric Sanderson, I’m still irritated that I was made to wade through some surreal borderline nonsense first.
Overall: If you’re into magical realism or you like your fiction particularly quirky, I’m sure that there’s a lot about this book to love. It plays around with language and uses text art in a way that does add to the story rather than just take up space and I would never deny that it’s clever. If you like to feel like you understand what’s going on in the book that you’re reading, or if you aren’t a fan of the surreal, I’d pass on this.
Date finished: 05 January 2019
Pictured edition published: by Canongate Books in March 2017
Pop Sugar Challenge Prompt: A debut novel