Raw Shark Texts

I’ve just finished reading The Raw Shark Texts and absolutely loved it. I’d be keen on finding suggestions of other visual or ergodic literature. (I’ve already read House of Leaves and Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski and Filth by Irvine Welsh, so you don’t have to suggest those, lol).

Thanks all!

Since you like House of Leaves, you should pick up Whalestoe Letters. It’s a short book, entirely composed of letters from Johnny Truant’s mother, showing her descent into madness. Most of it is scattered throughout House of Leaves, but with the addition of about a dozen new letters, and having them all together in one place, I found it to be very effective. It’s pretty visual, too.

Just checked out The Raw Shark Texts on Amazon. I’d never heard of it before, but it looks intriguing, so I’ve just bought it and look forward to starting it over the weekend. Thanks for the recommendation!

All the best,

P.S. EDITED TO ADD: I also just bought House of Leaves, but 800 pages? Really? If it wasn’t written before 1900, I hate long books. Admittedly it’s my own failure for being a painfully slow reader, but dammit.

And yet you have created the ultimate “long book authoring” tool.


AmberV: Thanks. I’ve been looking at that for awhile. Not sure why I haven’t pulled the trigger on it yet. But I will now.

KB: House of Leaves is worth every one of those 800 pages. And, some of those pages go by very quick with only a word or two on them. (Of course, other pages are incredibly dense and labyrinth like). Enjoy it. It is an interesting journey.

If I remember right, the actual “plot” portion of the book is less than the total weight of the book, as there are significant appendices, including an oddly corrupted and mostly useless index of words. But between Johnny rambling on with his typewriter and bad grammar, and Zampano pontificating like an over-baked intellectual, both over topics of which they certainly can know nothing at all about, it’s quite a hoot.

Sounds like reading a debate between the headless wonder and the pirate-dog-turned-Einstein.

I finished House Of Leaves a few years ago, set it down and had the following thought:

“I hated that. But I think I’m wrong.”

I would love to read someone’s thoughts on that novel, and why I Totally Missed The Point. I’m not usually a point misser, but I can’t shake the thought that I did this time.

That book has always had a polarising effect on people. I think it depends a lot on whether or not you like “games”. I don’t mean in the general sense of the word, but specifically if you enjoy narrative games. If you don’t enjoy a certain amount of intentional convolution and obscurity for the sake of fun, then it probably won’t appeal. It isn’t so much a sense of figuring out a puzzle, that can be done with ordinary narrative. If French New Wave bothers you because it’s playing with narrative devices simply to see what can be done with them, then it probably will not appeal. If you watch New Wave because you enjoy seeing the narrative process used as a form of commentary itself, then you might like it. I’m casting some generalisations here, I’m sure there are people that dig Godard and hated House of Leaves, but for the sake of simplified analogy I think it’s a good way of describing the crowds the like it or hate it.

As for myself, I think playing with narrative can be fun, and in some cases it can even be thought provoking and lead to new ways of looking at standard narrative forms. House of Leaves, for me, was more in the latter category, mainly because it approached the textual narrative in a very film-like way. In film, you can control the rate at which the audience gathers information. With a book you can’t as easily do that because many readers will skim over the types of prose they don’t enjoy as much. House of Leaves introduced typographic constraints and liberations to alternatively force the reader to slow down and speed up, or be subjected to “a dark set” from film technique. I submit that having twenty pages where only a half-dozen words are printed on the page in various orientations is akin to putting the audience in a dark room with the protagonist breathing over the set and holding a guttering candle.

Readers that don’t like being “played with” will probably find this maddening. Because it takes these things to such extremes, if you don’t take kindly to the author playing with you, then you’ll probably hate it because that’s pretty much all the book is. If you like these kinds of things at all then you’ll probably love it because, again, it takes it to such an extreme.

Yeah, see, that’s my problem: Godard, Lynch, Grant Morrison, Primer, David Foster Wallace – I love all of that stuff, but I got impatient with House of Leaves. Add in my ardent, lifelong love for the idea of the Tardis – it’s bigger on the inside! – and it all becomes more perplexing. I should love HOL. I did not. It must be me. I should give it another shot.

I’m quite enjoying The Raw Shark Texts at the moment (probably because so far it seems very indebted to Haruki Murakami, one of my favourite writers), but the cover (of the UK version, obviously) makes me laugh:

With its Photoshop montage of models leaping, staring thoughtfully and kissing, all exploding out of the Rorschach blot containing the title at the centre, and with the “First things first, stay calm” tagline and the “blockbuster waiting to be made” quote from Toby Litt on the spine, it’s as though the publishers are trying to push it as - well, as a blockbuster; a thriller that might appeal to readers of Grisham et al. And yet by page 50 the protagonist finds himself in danger from a “conceptual fish”.

Don’t get me wrong, I quite like the idea of a conceptual fish (would that be a conceptual conceptual fish?), it’s just that I’m not quite sure this cover is exactly being honest to the casual book browser (especially seeing as the blurb doesn’t mention said conceptual fish, but rather vaguely sidesteps the issue by instead vaguely referring to it as a “dark force that threatens [the protagonist’s] life”.

It’s definitely good fun, though. Although I have to say that if I ever wrote sentences such as, “the word coming in a tangle-breated shudder”, “the idea of the floor, the concept, feel, shape of the words in my head all broke apart on impact with a splash of sensations of textures and pattern memories and letters and phonetic sounds spraying out”, “this was everything, at the heart of everything this was a simple, perfect just is”, or “that mean naughty sexy cruel little smile might be the single and only perfect thing that’s ever existed”… Well, if I ever wrote sentences such as those and a number of other similar ones, my other half would give me a very odd look indeed and call me a w***er. But then that’s what is so hard to emulate about Murakami - Murakami can somehow describe a girl’s ears as being entirely perfect, have his protagonist speak to a ghost or live half in a world with unicorns, without seeming mawkish or pretentious. Steven Hall certainly manages all of this better than, say, David Mitchell in the dreadful chapters in Number9Dream dealing with “Goatwriter” (a blatant, uh, “homage” to Murakami’s “sheepman”). Hall’s verbal tick of creating compound, hyphenated words gets a little irritating rather quickly, but all such criticisms are rather mean, because there’s also some very fine writing in there and I ploughed through the first few chapters yesterday because it’s so enjoyable thus far. (In fact, I would say I’m only criticising at all because it is generally so good, so the lapses into pretentiousness stick out because normally he keeps things fairly matter-of-fact.) Of course, I’ve also noted that he’s younger than me (as are many writers nowadays, dammit), so that makes me hate him. :slight_smile:

So thanks again for the recommendation!

All the best,

House of Leaves: Greatly enjoyed that one.

Only Revolutions: Not so much; I think around 70 pages in (from each direction) I said “Why bother?” and haven’t picked it up since.

Raw Shark Texts: I like it a lot for the bulk of the book, but the extended Jaws re-telling towards the end really turned me off. Definite third-act problems.

Similar books:

The People Of Paper by Plascencia: Very good, despite originally being published by the Eggers crew.

Dhalgren, by Samuel Delaney: I’m not a big fan, but it’s definitely the same type of book, and it has a bit of a cult following.

Pale Fire by Nabokov: OK, This is actually on my to-read stack, but the story is told incidentally, as it were – through forewords, critical essays, and commentary on a poet’s latest work. Puts me in mind of J G Ballard’s short story The Index, where the “story” of a book is inferred from the contents of the book’s index (presumably all that remains).

Anything by Milorad Pavic. He did Dictionary of the Khazars, Landscape Painted in Tea, and others. Each book is a bit of a puzzle, though some (like the Tarot-based one) come off as a bit gimmicky.

I might be missing one or two; I’m not sure if Geometric Regional Novel counts, or Vandermeer’s more creative work (e.g. City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek).

May I ask what problem you have with the Eggers Crew? I assume you’re referring to McSweeney’s, which is really quite an interesting publishing house IMO.

The Vandermeer stuff is already on my “to read” list. I’m currently going through a bunch of anthologies Vandermeer and/or his wife have edited.

Thanks for the suggestions!

Push this to the top of your Queue. It really is quite amazing how much one man’s derangement can show up in footnotes and commentary. Wallace was good with footnotes. In Pale Fire, Nabokov demonstrates that he is a master (which is, of course, no surprise given his connection to Academia).

Actually, I read it shortly after posting – had forgotten it was sitting there in my to-read stack. Quite enjoyable. The petty backstabbing and the obstinate pursuit of one’s own agenda is pretty widespread in academia.

Regarding Eggers and such, the writing in McSweeney’s tends to rub me the wrong way. These days, when I encounter a new writer with a smug or trying-too-hard-to-be-clever tone, I do a quick search and usually find that they are a regular McSweeney’s contributor. It’s not bad or uninteresting writing, but I find it a bit off-putting.

Definitely check out Vandermeer. City of Saints and Madmen first, if you can manage it. The Spectra reprint adds some 400 pages of additional material, most of it supporting documents (diary entries, medical case histories, encyclopedia entries, etc).

I’ll definitely check out Vandermeer. I just read a short story of his, and it was pretty good. (It was in the anthology Feeling Very Strange).

I’ve actually never read an issue of McSweeney’s (I have one, haven’t gotten around to it). I do like The Believer, though, mainly because I like thought provoking long-form articles/journalism/criticism about anything, and they’re hard to find nowadays. You’re right though: There are lots of writers trying too hard to be clever. I like clever writing, but if it’s forced, it makes me ill, lol.