The first thing I noticed in reading Steven Hall were the large similarities between Memento and this piece – the parallels between Eric and Leonard are many, from their notes to themselves, their previous lives constructing and leading the way for their present ones, and their driving focus being holding on to memories of lost lovers.
Yet these similarities don’t make either text experimental. So what is it that makes Hall fall in this genre? The Raw Shark Texts experiments with the concepts of language and thought itself – how words and thoughts are powerful enough to affect the physical being. The plot itself is, like Memento, not too hard to comprehend. Although it is set in a different world, and has interesting concepts of un-space and conceptual realities, it is easy to understand and not far off the usual conventions of one man, one woman, a common enemy, and a cat. There are a few plot points that add to the experimentation – the idea of being able to imprint oneself onto others or lose oneself entirely is unusual. Literally with the Mycroft Ward “thing”, or bodies, there is a single mind works to link hundreds and thousands of bodies. Yet this isn’t that far of a stretch with science fiction. What makes the text experimental, then, is that within the text, Hall visually evokes the reader with more than just imagery. He uses actual images created by words – not just irrelevant words, but words that relate to the memories of his character Eric Sanderson. He places the fish and shark that Eric fears, experimenting with words as artistic pictures, with the creatures literally swimming through the literature. The plot itself and the structure are bare and essential, allowing for the presentation to take over. For example, when Eric first encounters the Ludovician, when it comes out of his television to attack him, the reader is led along with suspense not just because of the context of the scene, but because of the text illustration along with it. Hall’s representation of the text in a box visually stimulates the reader to imagine a television box, out of which a shark is swimming through words. With each new visualization of the shark, there are different words depicting it, which makes sense because the shark ingests new concepts and new words by each next sighting.
The hands on experience of reading this text, ultimately, is a more sensory and cognitive experience, and thus is experimental, even if the plot itself is not much beyond a science fiction. It is, while a one-dimensional text of text, more than one-dimensional because it involves the reader in seeing beyond just words to the illustrations, which actually move through the text. This visual story telling adds to the experience a suspense and drama that can not be had with just lines of text.