Feb 102010
 
Authors: Matt Minich

Certain books have all the markings of cult classic. Despite often simple and predictable plotlines, they are rife with mythology, creating strange new worlds inhabited with characters as quirky and bizarre as their most avid readers.

Steven Hall’s first novel, “The Raw Shark Texts,” is one of these books. Released in 2007, the bestseller has been hailed as one of the most original pieces of fiction created in the new millennium.

“The Raw Shark Texts” uniquely mixes wit and thrills, which could best be described as a blend of Douglas Adams’s classic “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” “The Matrix” and the work of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. If it had to be assigned a genre, I could only describe it as “epistemological fiction”.

The novel opens like all too many modern thrillers: Our protagonist, identified throughout the book as “the second Eric Sanderson,” wakes up with no memory whatsoever. Who he is (or was) and what has happened to him is a complete mystery.

In the process of reassembling Anderson’s life and identities, Hall departs from what at first looks to be a clichéd plotline. Rather than being the product of a top-secret government brainwashing program, Anderson’s amnesia, he discovers, is the result of an attack by a “conceptual fish” called a Ludovican.

Here’s where that originality bit comes in.

After about 100 pages of suspenseful fact-finding, Anderson is launched down the rabbit-hole and into a world inhabited not only by schools of conceptual fish, but by those rare individuals, living on the furthest fringes of society, who study the creatures.

In Hall’s fictional world, radio broadcasts, written texts, even passing thoughts compose an unseen sea of concepts and ideas where creatures like the Ludovican live and feed (on the memories of hapless victims like Eric Sanderson).

Despite the bizarre nature of the setting and characters (throughout his journey, Anderson meets a number of odd personalities, including a professor who inhabits a compound constructed of used telephone books), the plotline of “The Raw Shark Texts” follows a tried and true formula.

Boy meets girl, boy realizes the true, unseen nature of the world, boy discovers he is the one true hope for humanity and boy saves world.

The story, told through a mish-mash of narrative, letters and illustrations (including a 45-page flipbook animation), never fails to keep the reader turning pages. Hall does an excellent job of immersing the reader in his strange world and keeps them rooting for its unlikely heroes even in the most absurd situations (SPOILER: the climactic scene is an obvious imitation of the end of the movie “Jaws”).

This blend of compelling, easy-to-read storytelling and imaginative world-craft has created a predictable cult of follower for Hall’s book.

The following has become so large, in fact, that Hall has started a hunt for the novel’s 36 “lost chapters”: strange, tangential additions to the story that he has spent the last three years writing and scattering around the Internet or hiding within new editions of the book.

Whether you’re the cult fascination type or not, though, “The Raw Shark Texts” is a fresh take on an age-old thriller model and promises a fast read while avoiding the pitfalls of cliché.

News Editor Matt Minich can be reached at news@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 5:52 pm

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