The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

I was unconscious. I’d stopped breathing.

– Opening line

I have no idea how well this review is going to read, because I’m not sure how I can effectively put into words and convey what The Raw Shark Texts is like.

It’s unlike anything I have read before.

The only way I can attempt to describe it by saying it reminded me of Alan Wake mixed with a bit of The Matrix – and maybe a dash of Alice in Wonderland.

The Raw Shark Texts begins in a somewhat-standard way. A man wakes from unconsciousness with no recollection of where he is, or even who he is. As he walks around a house he doesn’t recognise, he finds a single note that reads:

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

Typical thriller stuff. Intriguing from the very start.

However, this book doesn’t follow in the way you think it will. And I must say I loved the uniqueness of it. I try to read a varied mix of genres, but over time characters and plots can start to feed repetitive and predictable. The Raw Shark Texts almost defies genres, and seems to me to be more of a literary experiment.

However, I’m still not sure if I actually liked it. It definitely took me a while to get into it, you have to just go with it. At one stage early on I read a passage that just seemed SO try-hard to me (not a spoiler, but for those who have read it – the introduction of the Ludvocian). It was actually off-putting.

But the way the book is put together – with inserted letters and what a series of unique images made out of text (see example below) – kept me intrigued enough to keep going. And I’m glad I did, because I had a ‘light bulb’ moment and was struck by how clever this book is.

But then it settles again and there’s a typical boy-meets-girl scenario and it’s all a bit stereotypical. It’s not awful, but, in my opinion, it’s too safe and holds some of The Raw Shark Texts full potential back.

BUT THEN, it makes up for it with some seriously beautiful typesetting (I read this book as a hardback, and I have no idea if the paperback and ebook versions are able to effectively replicate the effect) as well as a twisted tribute to Jaws. I mean, if that doesn’t make you at least a little bit excited, I don’t know what will.

BUT. THEN.

The ending disappointed. I guess Hall was setting himself up for it really, but it just felt flat after the rollercoaster ride I experienced whilst reading it. I can’t really say much more without spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at that (if you’ve read this, please do comment below or tweet me because I’d love to know what you thought).

So, all that said, I’m still not really sure how I feel about it.

I’d never hard of The Raw Shark Texts or Steven Hall. I just happened to stumble across this book in a charity shop, and ended up buying it on a whim. I suspect it may have some sort of cult status; books that break the norm in so many ways should be celebrated and promoted amongst fellow readers.

Anyway, would I recommend it? Yes. And if you do read it, I’d love for you to get in touch and let me know what you think.

4 Stars (4 / 5)

As night drew in, we steered the dinghy across a stretch of friendly looking coastline, a long strip of beach where the hanging lanterns of tavernas and waterfront bars laid multicoloured stripes out across the waves.

– Final sentence

1 Comment

  1. This sounds wild! I haven’t heard of this book before, but I was immediately drawn to the cover you’ve shown on your blog. I really love the concept. I may have to add this to my list soon.

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