The Raw Shark Texts begins with a character who wakes up without any knowledge of himself, his surroundings, or his past. Sounds familiar, right? This plot is something we have already seen before in Memento, but what’s different in Steven Hall’s novel is that Eric Sanderson’s ‘condition’ (yes, he calls it that too) is, by his doctor’s diagnosis, self-inflicted and therefore possibly curable. However, Eric’s situation is different in that his ‘incarnations’ last longer than Leonard’s ever did, allowing him to create an identity and establish relative stability in his life. Several times in the first part of the novel, Eric deals with the question of his identity: if he is the Eleventh Eric Sanderson, and there were ten more before him (the First of which constantly communicates with him via letters and packages), then who is he currently if he can’t remember anything from before? Like Leonard in Memento, each incarnation wakes up with a blank slate and must form a new identity. The First Eric Sanderson provided the Ryan Mitchell Mantra, which would have allowed for the creation of a new identity, to Eric so that he could live in the now, and not go fishing (literally) for his past. Eric does the same thing with his colleague Mark Richardson, creating a new ‘mask’ for himself based on habits, mannerisms, facial expressions, etc. so that he is able to create an identity. However, Eric maintains a concrete and separate identity, the ‘real’ Eric, which is just as clueless and lost as ever: like Leonard mentioned in Memento, it was just feigning recognition and normality so as to not arouse suspicion.
Something else that intrigued me was the ‘presence’ of the First Eric Sanderson, who leads the Eleventh Eric Sanderson along with stories and explanations and the repeated ‘regret and also hope’. If this disorder completely erases past incarnations to the point that the next incarnation awakes with barely any knowledge of the past, then how did the First Eric Sanderson manage to plan out such an intricate and complicated path for later ‘Erics’ to follow? From daily life to pieces of his past to information on the Ludovician, Dr. Trey Fidorous, and the Un-Space Exploration Committee, the First Eric Sanderson lays everything out for the current Eric, which means that the First meant for this to happen and deliberately sabotaged his own memory, knowing that it would lead to this.