Monday, May 28, 2012

The Raw Shark Texts (Or, Now That You've Read This You're Completely Fucked), by Steven Hall

 "Geniuses don't go mad. That's what people don't understand. They get so far out that the water is like glass and they can see for miles and they see so much, and in ways people have never seen before. They go out over such depths, down down down and down, and some of them get taken. Something rushes up out of their thoughts, from the insides of their own heads and through the act of looking and the thinking itself- because the deep blue is in there too, you understand? And it takes them."

Remember the Doctor's Weeping Angels?

For those floundering, after 'The Crash of the Byzantium', The Doctor finds a book that unveils (spoilers, sweetie) not only are the Angels lightning fast rock monsters, but that the image of an Angel is an Angel.

This is relevant. Pay attention.

 In The Raw Shark Texts, (henceforth TRST, because seventeen letters is my utter limit for the number of characters I will type in a title, and I don't go over it for anybody, not even my favourite book), the concept of a shark, is a shark. Ideas are dangerous, and real: a place where predators can hunt, and you can fall prey.

This book is the reigning sovereign of all metafiction.

TRST is a book that wants to be all things to all people. And that's not my spin, that's straight from the author. Does a book have a true nature? Perhaps its true nature is that it can morph and change, like some sort of.....well. Rorschach. How utterly magnificent.

I love metafiction. It makes me feel as if someone has rifled through my head, in order to plant little breadcrumbs to lead me to a gingerbread house full of awesome. TRST isn't the sort of metafiction that draws attention to its form (I know this seems like a prerequisite of the genre, but bear with me). It's a story about an idea that has physical power, and so, you come to wonder if that original story has the same power as the idea it's describing. Is the idea the true, frightening concept? Or is the story of the concept the threatening presence?

I don't expect you to follow that. I'm not sure that I did.

I loved this book because it let me believe a story could be real. Not the characters, or the events in the story. But the story itself. I've spent so much of my life inside books, to be allowed to believe they're real is exciting, comforting, freeing.

The concept of TRST will thrill you...and the concept and the execution are married so seamlessly, you'd never notice the difference.

TRST is a puzzle book, and I got the same thrill out of the novel that I used to get from 90's point-and-click adventure games. There are suggestive names (Mycroft Ward), memento-esque clues, an untrustworthy narrator, and best of all: unchapters.

Every real chapter in the book has its equivalent unchapter, or negative chapter. A physical copy of a chapter tucked away in the Real World somewhere, or buried deep within the internet. Written to slide into the narrative of the novel, sometimes furthering exposition, sometimes offering up some tasty character development. And guys: they haven't all been found. It's a real life literary treasure hunt!

The Raw Shark Texts (ok, a full title, just this once) has a devoted internet following. There are forums upon forums dedicated to deciphering its puzzles and hidden meanings. There is even a cryptic code hidden in its pages, for those into that sort of thing.

And if you needed any further proof that this book will blow your mind, here is Tilda Swinton interpreting a passage:

Oh, you're welcome. You're very welcome.

Despite its beauty, its challenge, and its vaguely threatening concept, no one I have recommended the book to has read it yet. This saddens me. Perhaps it's the tacit promise of intellectual wankery (and oh, is there intellectual wankery), perhaps it's my untrammeled enthusiasm. But even though the novel is concept heavy, you honestly don't need a doctorate in Derrida to decode it. And besides, TRST is brave. And it tries really hard, you guys. And we should reward it's effort with our attention.

Gold Star, Steven Hall. Gold Star.


  1. I really feel I need to reread this now... thanks!

    1. This is how I felt writing the post xx