With both a bang and a whimper. And also a wtf.

tl;dnr: steven hall played you like a violin. or maybe a keyboard.

I think that being a lit major has made me an apologist for every book I read. I’m always looking for some  hidden theme or structure that redeems the book or lends it greater significance. Some meta-narrative or connection to the real world that gives the text a greater meaning I can ponder upon and use as fodder to feed the minimum length requirements of my next essay. I think Steven Hall was aware of this tendency among readers to want more from a book, leading him to create the un-chapters (I still can’t decide whether this was a cocky or daring move for a debut author).

The last five pages of the book was a straight up wuddafuq moment for me. The past 400 pages had essentially been a thriller plot–a long chase/flight ending in a climactic BANG. The primal predator mutually destructed the vast villain and the heroes swam off into the sunset. But there was no sense of resolution. What should have been a panoramic high resolution explosion celebrated with hearty back slaps and big cigars was glossed over and distracted from by the ‘Inception Question.’ That’s what this ending leaves the reader with: questions. Is Eric Sanderson dead? Alive in an alternate reality? Insane? Some combination thereof? How does Scout have Clio’s personality at the end? What is the nature of the postcard and island? What meaning does the Casablanca screenshot have?

All these questions demand a sequel or expanded universe or companion book or SOMETHING to answer the itching ache of ignorance that Hall has planted in our minds. Hall answers that itching demand with the un-chapters. In my last blog post I discussed how The Raw Shark Texts is a post-Internet story because it addresses the theme of humans as information packets. But the real reason is both much simpler and much much more clever. Only with the Internet could an author distribute un-chapters. Only with the Internet could readers network with each other to find and decipher un-chapters. Hall has done what I would have never dreamed possible: retrofit the mechanics of an electronic interactive  narrative to the traditional print medium. He’s created an alternate reality game from a book.

Every one of us is now, almost literally, an Eric Sanderson. We read the book, we witnessed the events, we know what happened. But there are gaps our knowledge. Inexplicable, frustrating, tantalizing gaps. To fill those gaps we must venture beyond our normal routine lives into the vast chaotic biro-covered series of tubes in search of some unknown goal, guided only by cryptic fragments of information gleaned from the writings of a madman. Somewhere out there in those anti-books is the means of Clio’s transubstantiation, the deleted scenes of Eric’s journey, the backstories of Fidorous and Scout, the world-building explaining the Un-Space Exploration Committee and conceptual fish and Shotai-Mu, the machinations of Mycroft Ward, the origins and workings of the postcard, the desperate intentions of the First Eric Sanderson, THE TRUE FATE OF GAVIN THE CAT.

A Rorschach test functions by eliciting a subject’s reaction to an utterly nonsensical stimulus. Think about that for a minute.


~ by Freddie on January 28, 2013.

6 Responses to “With both a bang and a whimper. And also a wtf.”

  1. I enjoy the last paragraph, and how it states that everyone of us is an Eric Sanderson; The unstable plot structure relates to life and identity.

  2. This was compelling to me because the “every one of us is now, almost literally, an Eric Sanderson,” line hits home and connects my experience of reading the book to Eric’s experience living it.

  3. Any book ending with a jaws-like finally and the two heroes swimming off together with a cat earns itself undivided attention and the demands for all questions to be answered.

  4. I like this post because it brings our identities in with the text by saying that we are all Eric Sandersons (we have followed his journey), but more importantly reading the book has simulated his mind.

  5. A good post- interesting how you equate it to an alternate reality game.

  6. Interesting post, brought a lot of issues to the forefront that I was thinking about. Honestly, not that into the book but I’m always down for a little literary playfulness. Thought a lot of the names Hall was related to in the jacket of the book were a little weird. Beckett? Borges? No, not really feeling it. More epistemic disruption in Borges, more anthropological distance and cynicism in Beckett. blahblahvlahvlahgkajslkfhdhdkd. Just need to keep it going just writing writing writing. I always thought Murakami handled the dream v. reality thing real well. Liked the messiness, lack of narrative focus. Guess I should give Hall credit fr a lucid style.

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