Novel to Sink Your Teeth Into

Margaret prodded me into reading Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts this latesummer, and it serves as a wonderful reminder of how well she knows me. Raw Shark mingles romance, semiotics, conspiracy, and conceptual ichthyology in an engrossing plot that oscillates from supernatural adventure to elegiac descent into madness, and back, and from there to genre-challenging reflection on meaning, identity, and narrative closure — all with so deftly light a hand that it never succumbs to ponderous self-importance. No Matrix here, though it touches some of the points that the Wachowskis skimmed from the surface of Baudrillard; no self-congratulatory deconstruction of the novel; no elaborate joke at the reader’s expense, and although the ending remains open in certain regards, it offers knit-things-up conclusion to satisfy a reader who simply will not tolerate loose ends.

The gentleness with which Hall evokes the various dimensions of this meditative adventure remind me of Mark Tansey or René Magritte more than Derrida or Keanu Reeves. Hall demonstrates alert awareness of the visual, aural, and emotional coloration of “knowing” — and, arguably, intimates a sense of the spiritual and parabolic as well.

I recommend the novel highly, but particularly emphatically for readers with interests that touch on the topics I’ve sketched in Beautiful Theology and in some of the essays in Faithful Interpretation and in “Poaching on Zion.” While it’s always a mistake to judge one work by the standard of all that it might be, The Raw Shark Texts attains distinction in so many different ways that it would be curmudgeonly (even for me!) to scold it for not reaching all the way to transcendence.

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