A thrillingly original novel published in thirty-three countries to worldwide acclaim, The New York Times Magazine called The Raw Shark Texts a genre-founding work of fiction.
Eric Sanderson wakes up in a house he doesn’t recognize, unable to remember anything of his life. All he has left are his diary entries recalling Clio, a perfect love who died under mysterious circumstances, and a house that may contain the secrets to Eric’s prior life. But there may be more to this story, or it may be a different story altogether. With the help of allies found on the fringes of society, Eric embarks on an edge-of-your-seat journey to uncover the truth about himself and to escape the predatory forces that threaten to consume him. Moving with the pace of a superb thriller, The Raw Shark Texts has sparked the imaginations of readers around the world and is one of the most talked-about novels in years.
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A Relic of Something Nine-tenths Collapsed
I was unconscious. I'd stopped breathing.
I don't know how long it lasted, but the engines and drivers that keep the human machine functioning at a mechanical level must have trip-switched, responding to the stillness with a general systems panic. Autopilot failure – switch to emergency manual override.
This is how my life started, my second life.
My eyes slammed themselves capital O open and my neck and shoulders arched back in a huge inward heave, a single world-swallowing lung gulp of air. Litres of dry oxygen and floor dust whistled in and snagged up my throat with knifey coughing spasms. I choked and spat through heaves and gasps and coughing coughing coughing heaves. Snot ropes unwound from my nose. My eyesight melted into hot blurs over my cheeks.
The shudder-hacking violence of no air then too much knocked me dizzy, sent the floor tilting away under my fingers. Static behind my eyes bacteria-swarmed dangerously towards another blackout and, snow-blind and shaking, I pushed my wet mouth down tight into the palms of my hands, trying to pull controlled, steady breaths through my fingers –
Slowly, slowly-slowly, the world began to reappear in sickly greens and thumping purples and after maybe a minute, it steadied itself into a shaky-solid kind of balance.
I wiped my hands on my jeans and gave in to a last scratchy cough before rubbing out the last of the tears.
Okay. Just breathe, we're okay.
I had no idea who or where I was.
This was no sudden revelation, no big shock. The thought had congealed itself under the gasping and the choking and even now, with my body coming back under control and the realisation fully formed, it didn't bring with it any big horror or fear. Against all that physical panic it was still a small secondary concern, a minor oddity at the corner of things. What mattered most to me – a million times more than anything – was air, breath, the easy lungfuls coming and going now. The beautiful, heavenly, angel-singing fact – I could breathe and that meant I would live. Pressing my forehead down into the wet carpet, I imagined breathing mile after mile of smooth blue savannah sky as the last of the shudders worked their way out of my body.
I counted to ten then I looked up from the floor. I propped up onto my elbows and when that seemed okay, all the way up onto my knees. I was kneeling at the foot of a double bed in a bedroom. A bedroom stocked with all the ordinary, usual things. There was a wardrobe in the corner. A bedside table with a collection of water glasses of varying ages and an alarm clock with red digital numbers – 4.34 p.m., a chest of drawers cluttered with deodorant cans and lids, a tub of multivitamins and the remains of a blue toilet roll, used right down to where the paper goes wrinkly, like bath fingers. All just normal bedroom things – but I didn't recognise any of them. None of it felt strange, but none of it was familiar either. It was all just there; unremarkable but alien stuff. The thought came that maybe I'd fallen and concussed myself, except nothing hurt. I felt around my skull to make sure, but no, nothing.
I climbed carefully up onto my feet but the new angle didn't do anything for my memory either. And that's when the first real stabs of worry started to land.
It isn't all coming back to me. I don't know any of this at all.
I felt that prickling horror, the one that comes when you realise the extent of something bad – if you're dangerously lost or you've made some terrible mistake – the reality of the situation creeping in through the back of your head like a pantomime Dracula.
I did not know who I was. I did not know where I was.
I clamped my teeth together and turned around on the spot, three slow visual sweeps of the bedroom, my eyes touching and exploring every ordinary incidental thing and recognising absolutely none of them. I tried the same thing mentally – closing my eyes, searching around inside my head, feeling through the black for any familiar shape. But it was all just cobwebs and shadows; I couldn't find myself in there either.
I walked over to the bedroom window. The outside world was a long street and a facing row of terraced houses. There were regular lamp posts, irregular telegraph posts and the sounds of a distant busy road – constant car engine hum, truck bang-clatter and occasional bass box thump, but – I squashed my nose up against the glass and looked left and right – no people. It was a cloudy day, grey and edgeless. I felt edgeless too. I suddenly had an urge to rush out of the house shouting for help and running for as long as I could so someone would see me and acknowledge me as a real person and they'd call a doctor or somebody who could fit me back into my proper place, the way a clockmaker realigns all the tiny makings inside a broken watch. But I had an equally strong fear that if I did this, if I ran and shouted, no one would come, no one would see. I'd get to the end of this street only to find the traffic sounds were coming from an old tape player on the corner of an abandoned, litter-washed main road in an empty, deserted world.
No. Come on, that's not useful. I rubbed my palm heels against my eyes, pushed down the panic and tried to clear my head. Patting down my pockets I found a wallet. I fingered through cash, receipts, bus tickets and an empty book of stamps, then – a driver's licence.
I stared at the picture and the name on the card.
The man in the wardrobe mirror carefully touched his fingers over his thin cheeks, his nose, his mouth, his short crop of dirty brown hair. He was in his late twenties, tired, pale and a bit sickly looking. He frowned at me. I tried to read the history hidden inside the frown as he made it – what kind of person wrinkles his forehead like that? What sort of life builds up a pattern of lines like those? – but there was nothing to be seen that I could decode. The man was a stranger and his expressions were written in a language I couldn't begin to understand. We reached out to each other and our fingertips met, mine warm and oily, his cold and smooth and made only of coloured light bouncing off glass. I drew my hand back and called the reflection by his name. And he said the same thing back, but silently, just moving his lips:
Eric Sanderson. When I heard myself speak it, the name sounded solid and real and good and normal. It wasn't. It was a ruin of loose masonry, broken windows and flapping blue tarpaulin sheets. It was a derelict. A relic of something nine-tenths collapsed.
* * *
"I imagine you have a lot of questions, Eric."
"Yes." Yes? It was difficult to know what to say. It was difficult to say anything. Despite the fear and the memory blindness, my overwhelming feelings were of embarrassment; incapacity, the stupidity of myself and my situation. How could I sit here and ask this stranger to help me pick up the facts of my life? The shopping bags had burst and all my things were rolling out over a packed pavement with me scurrying after them, stooping and bumping and tripping: Excuse me. I'm sorry. Excuse me. Could you just ... Excuse me.
It was one hour and five minutes after I'd opened my eyes on the bedroom floor.
"Yes," the doctor said. "I appreciate this isn't at all easy for you. It must be terribly unsettling. You are doing very well though and you should try to relax if you can."
We were sitting in a green leafy conservatory on big cushioned wicker chairs, a small wicker and glass coffee table with cups of tea between us and a small brown dog sleeping under one of the potted cheese plants by the door. All very informal, very laid back.
"Would you like a biscuit?" The doctor's big face tipped towards the plate of chocolate digestives.
"No." I said. "No thanks."
She nodded at this, took two for herself and placed them one on top of the other, chocolate side to chocolate side, and then dunked them into her tea, her heavy eyes coming back to me whenever this procedure allowed.
"Awful, I know," she said.
Dr Randle was more like an electrical storm or some complicated particle reaction than a person. A large clashing event of a woman whose frizzy hack job of white-brown hair hummed against a big noisy blouse which, in turn, strobed in protest against her tartan skirt. She had strontium grey eyes which crackled away to themselves behind baggy lids. She made the air feel doomy, faintly radioactive. You half expected your ears to pop.
I looked away as she finished her mouthful of biscuit.
I couldn't bring myself to start this conversation and she seemed almost as uncomfortable with the silence as I did. "Well. We should get the big things out of the way first and then we can go from there."
"Right then." She thunderclapped her hands. "What I believe you've been experiencing is memory loss caused by what we call a dissociative condition."
Having almost everything to ask often means there's nothing you can ask – no single question which, if asked before all the others, won't seem like a ridiculous place to start. And I felt ridiculous enough. And lost. And ashamed. So I just sat there.
"Dissociative," I said. "Okay."
"Yes. What this means is there is nothing physically wrong with you. Physically, there are no problems at all."
In setting it out like this of course, she was actually highlighting something else, the one thing she wasn't saying. It made me think of that old Peter Cook sketch: I've got nothing at all against your right leg. The trouble is – neither have you.
"You're telling me I'm crazy?"
Randle steepled her index fingers. "What you have is an injury. People suffer injuries of a million different kinds every day. It just that the injury you've suffered happens to be a ... non-physical one."
She skirted around the word mental. Swerved around it, in fact.
"Okay," I said.
"The really good news is you don't have any kind of degenerative condition or sickness that could be causing permanent damage to your brain. You're fine physically and that means there's no reason why you can't make a complete recovery."
"So this is a temporary thing?"
The hard frozen don't know time I'd been living since I opened my eyes on the carpet seemed to split a little. A warm splash of relief hit me under the ribs.
"I believe so," the doctor smiled a reined-in smile. It reined in my relief too.
"But we're probably looking towards the long term, I'm afraid."
She held up a gentle put on the brakes hand. "I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves. I'll answer all your questions as honestly as I can, but before we get too deep into this, there's something very important you need to hear. I think it's best if you hear it now, at the beginning."
I didn't say anything. I just sat squeezing my cold sweaty-wet hands together in my lap, waiting for whatever life I was about to be given.
"There was an accident, Eric. I'm sorry to tell you your partner was killed."
I just sat, blank.
"It happened in Greece. An accident at sea."
"Does any of this sound familiar?"
All of it, everything, it suddenly made me feel very sick. Stupid, inhuman and sick. I rubbed the sides of my nose with my finger and thumb. I looked up. I looked away. The questions were hot and prickly as I asked them, two grabbed stupidly and randomly from thousands. "Who was she? What did she do?"
"Her name was Clio Aames and she was training to be a lawyer."
"Was it my fault? I mean – was there anything I could have done?"
"No, it was an accident. I doubt there was anything anyone could have done."
"Are there arrangements? Things I need to be doing now?" I came to these things as I said them. "Family? The funeral? Who's taking care of that?"
Dr Randle's heavy eyes pressed down on me from behind her cup. "Clio's memorial service has already happened. You organised a wake for her yourself."
I sat very still.
"Why don't I remember any of this?"
"We'll get to that."
"Well, would you like to talk about it now?"
"No, I mean when did I organise it?"
"Clio died just over three years ago, Eric."
All the gathered, clutched-at and recently bolted-together facts of my life snapped, sheared and collapsed under my weight.
"I've been waking up without a thing in my head for three years?"
"No, no," Dr Randle came forward, big blotchy forearms on big tartan knees. "The condition you have, well, I'm afraid it's quite unusual."
* * *
When I left the bedroom I found myself on a small landing. I saw a second door but it was locked so I made my way downstairs.
The threadbare staircase led to a thin hallway with a front door at the far end. Next to the front door was a hallstand table and on the hallstand table was a big blue envelope, propped up and facing the stairs so I couldn't miss it. On the front of the envelope were big black felt-tip words: THIS IS ADDRESSED TO YOU, and underneath, OPEN NOW.
As I got nearer, I saw the envelope was only the most obvious of a cluster of objects arranged on the table. To the left was a telephone. A Post- it note stuck across the buttons had a biro arrow pointing at the receiver and the words: SPEED DIAL 1 – USE ME. To the right, a set of car keys; to the right of them, a Polaroid of an old yellow Jeep; and to the right of that, another Post-it, this one saying: DRIVE ME. A brown battered leather jacket hung from a hook on the stand.
I opened the envelope and found two sheets of paper – a typed letter and a hand drawn map. This is what the letter said:
Eric, 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
I read through the letter a couple more times. The First Eric Sanderson. What did that make me?
I took the jacket from the stand and picked up the map. The door keys were hanging just where the letter said they'd be. I called the number.
"Randle," a voice said.
"Dr Randle?" I pushed the car keys into my pocket. "This is Eric Sanderson."
* * *
Dr Randle came back into the conservatory with more tea and biscuits and a box of tissues on a tray. The brown dog under the cheese plant lifted its head, sniffed in a sleepy, going-through-the-motions sort of a way, then closed its eyes again.
"Dissociative disorders," Randle descended slowly into her creaking wicker chair, "are quite uncommon. They sometimes occur in response to severe psychological trauma, blocking out memories which are too painful or difficult for the mind to deal with. A circuit breaker for the brain, you could say."
"But I don't feel like I've forgotten anything," I said, fumbling around again inside my head. "It's just, there's nothing there. I mean, I don't think I feel anything about that girl. I don't even –" I put my palms out in a gesture of emptiness and scale.
The Randle nebula shifted, strobed, stretched and rolled in on itself until a big meaty hand with a tissue in it was patting my knee.
"The first few hours are always difficult for you, Eric."
"What does that mean?"
"Well, as I said, your condition, I don't like to use the term unique, but it's quite distinctive in several –"
"How many times have we done this, Doctor?"
She didn't even stop to think about it.
"This will be your eleventh recurrence," she said.
* * *
"In the majority of cases, dissociative amnesias occur and resolve relatively quickly. Generally speaking, it's the trigger event, the traumatic incident causing the condition, which is forgotten. Sometimes, the memory loss can be –" Dr Randle made a vague circle with her hand "– more general, but not often. A single recurrence of any kind is very, very unusual."
"And eleven is off the charts."
"Yes. These things are rarely black and white, Eric, but even so, I have to tell you –" she cast around for the right words, and then gave up.
"I see," I said, scrunching the tissue.
Randle seemed to be thinking. The heaviness lifted for a few seconds as she turned her thoughts inwards. When she looked back over at me, her forehead knotted up.
"You haven't had any urge to pack up and leave, have you?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Raw Shark Texts"
Copyright © 2007 Steven Hall.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
"Immensely enjoyable . . . This marvelous thriller plays off the infamous Rorschach Test, then cribs concepts from Jaws, Memento, and every locked-room mystery ever conceived, blending them into a wildly infectious story. . . . [A] beguiling bastard of a novel . . . Somehow the synthesis of Hall's ideas, big and small, original and borrowed, creates a unique experience for even the most jaded readers like your humble columnist."--(Clayton Moore, Bookslut)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you were to take the love child from a Alex Garland, David Mitchell and Mark Z. Danielewski threesome, say¿¿The Beach¿, ¿Number 9 Dream¿ and ¿House of Leaves¿ respectively, then the product of it would probably be ¿The Raw Shark Texts¿. There is no doubt that for his debut novel Hall has borrowed heavily, in my opinion mostly from Danielewski, and he has taken the elements that he appreciated from other authors and given it his own creative, ambitious twist, to make of this thriller something that is conceptually amazing, albeit abstract and difficult to approach.
If you are a fan of the clear cut story with simple to follow plots and entirely grounded themes, then I will let you know now not to come anywhere close to this book. If you however have enjoyed the work of any of the authors mentioned above or even the work of Italo Calvino (particularly ¿If On A Winter¿s Night A Tarveler¿¿) then this book is going to take you for a wild ride.
Eric Sanderson wakes up one day not knowing where he is, who he is and why he is there, having only letters sent to him by a past self with a series of instructions to try to help him determine who he is. You see, Eric suffers from a condition that began shortly after a boating accident that claimed the love of his life, which wipes out chunks of his memory, time and time again, each time erasing more and more of his former life. This is Eric Sanderson number 11. And just when it may seem that you have a handle on that, the weirdness comes, shaking things all over and making somewhat of a mess. There is the Ludovician, which threatens Eric with never making it to his 12th `rebirth¿ from amnesia, there is his run into unspace guided by pixie-ish Scout and then there is the entire last third of the book which asks you to exercise your pretend bone, one which most of us forget to use after the age of ten.
If that makes absolutely no sense, do not worry, it all does as you read the book and it does in a fashion that is fast paced and engaging. Raw Shark reads like a thriller, but requires a lot of imagination from the reader, to tell a vivid story of a man in the run not from killers, not from concrete evil, but rather conceptual evil which is the product of a mad man¿s quest for eternal life. Needless to say, while some of the readers (such as me) will eat this up with a spoon, this will also upset and frustrate the majority. Hall has tackled an inventive story and as mentioned above, ambitous, but he is still not exactly polished. Here and there his characters will falter and a few strings are left untied. For that reason, while I enjoy the work that was written here and would definitely read it again, I do not consider it as good as ¿Could Atlas¿ or ¿House of Leaves¿ which take the time to close all the small gaps and answer the important questions pertinent to the plot.
Is this an abandoned island book? For me, yes, but I will say that most people will not agree with me here. In the end, if you are up for an experimental, imagination defying read, this one is for you. If you like your books off the Oprah list, then look further down my list of reviewed books, this one is not going to be one of them. And for the record, yes, there are some books (two, actually, to be precise) I have reviewed that as it turns out, did make it to the Oprah Book Club list¿yikes.
I find it strange that there are no comments or reviews about this LOVE story. haha. What I mean to say is that this book is one of the greatest and most tragic love stories I've ever read. Maybe it's lacking on the romance as far as most love stories go. However, it still is a testament to the bond that is shared and the devastation caused when you lose that bond(in this case because of death). I absolutely loved this book. Not your typical thriller, not your typical love story.
One of my Top Ten. Hall has an interesting style of writing that distinguishes him from the crowd. A thought provoking page turner. I have read this multiple times and find something new within each time.
This book had me at the back cover. It was a thrill ride from begining to end. It was definitely odd, but amazing!
This is not a book for the atypical mindset. Approach it differently. Be as a much of a blank slate as the main character starts out as, a man with amnesia and no sense of who he is and ready to embrace everything he doesn't know, and you'll find yourself embracing the fantastical and loving it.
I write this review now from the screen of my Nook -- that's right I have forgone getting up from my bedly comforts and forsaken all keyboards to write a review. Chances are if you're colored intrigued by the headline alone then you should read this book. However, if you've never read either ofthose authors let me provide this: read this book. Seemingly innocuous at first, you soon will be unable to escape this lovely literary oddity as you crush through the pages seeking answers. One of the few works of fiction I have thoroughly enjoyed in a long time.
Just, wow. Lost in a work of literary art. Cannot put it down.
Read this book. You will not be disappointed.
This book is spectacular. It's the only book I reread