Books

Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.
Canongate U.S.

The Raw Shark Texts

A Novel

by Steven Hall

The Raw Shark Texts is so much more than a clever, playful book, though it is both those things. Steven Hall has worked hard to build on the work of his intellectual ancestors. . . . His writing, description as well as dialogue, is sharp and clear, which is extremely important when you are writing on the edge of the form.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 448
  • Publication Date April 08, 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8476-7174-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00
  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 448
  • Publication Date April 02, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-8419-5911-5
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $24.00
  • Imprint Canongate U.S.
  • Page Count 448
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4768-5
  • US List Price $14.95

About The Book

A national best seller, The Raw Shark Texts was described by The New York Times Magazine as indicative of an exciting emerging literary genre and the San Francisco Chronicle raved that it’s “paced like a thriller . . . and reads like a deluge.”

Steven Hall’s kaleidoscopic best-selling debut novel, The Raw Shark Texts, burst upon the literary scene gathering media attention, bookseller praise, critical accolades, and a following all over the world (rights were sold in thirty-two countries, to be exact). It has also gathered steam in the online world where it remains a topic of great passion and debate in the blogosphere and on sites such as Chuck Palahniuk’s fansite “The Cult” and Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves forum.

Eric Sanderson wakes up in a place he doesn’t recognize, unable to remember who he is. All he has left are journal entries recalling Clio, a perfect love who died under mysterious circumstances, and a house that may contain the secrets to Eric’s prior life.

Along with his cynical cat, Ian, Eric embarks on a thrilling, mind-bending journey in search of something called the Ludovician, an unexplainable force that threatens to consume him. With the help of allies found on the fringes of society, Eric’s climactic fight for survival makes for edge-of-your-seat fiction. The novel continues to reverberate with readers around the globe.

The New York Times Magazine placed Hall alongside novelist Joe Hill as a founder of the emerging “slipstream” genre, a unique combination “of science fiction, horror, fantasy, mystery, and realism” and called the novel “a horror-dystopic-philosophical mash-up that has critics drawing comparisons to Borges, The Matrix and Jaws.” And the Los Angeles Times named Philip K. Dick, Paul Auster, and Haruki Murakami among Hall’s literary ancestors, adding that his writing “is sharp and clear, which is extremely important when you are writing on the edge of the form.”

Tags Literary

Praise

“What can you say about a first novel that’s been sold to 32 countries, was pushed by authors as diverse as Mark Z. Danielewski and Chuck Palahniuk, and received front-page coverage in the New York Times business section? Hall is such a hit that the publisher won’t even reveal what he’s up to next.” —Library Journal

“Where Raymond Chandler’s rule for making the reader keep turning the pages was: ‘When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand,’ the postmodern thriller-writer’s should be ‘When in doubt, bung in a picture of a shark made from clumps of text’ because, by gum, it works.” —Jake Kerridge, The Daily Telegraph

“What is summer without some sharks? The Raw Shark Texts is an elliptical tale of lost memory and concomitant mystery . . . Amazingly complex, The Raw Shark Texts is part Mary Shelley, part Sigmund Freud, part thriller, part Hegelian dialectic and totally engaging.” —The Baltimore Sun

The Raw Shark Texts is an intelligent, inventive (typographically as well as imaginatively) first novel that combines a rattling good sci-fi thriller with a submerged but unsettling account of psychological disintegration through grief.” —Tina Turnbull, The Scotsman

“If Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami collaborated on Moby-Dick crossed with The Wizard of Oz, they might produce something like Hall’s deliriously ambitious debut. . . . Riveting . . . A narrative feat of hallucinatory imagination.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Wonderfully ambitious, even exuberantly so. At times, it seems as if Hall must have written it while hopping up and down with excitement, like a 6-year-old recounting his first trip to the circus. Paced like a thriller, the book thinks like a French theorist and reads like a deluge. The end result is a fun, quirky, very British love story. . . . Herman Melville meets Michael Crichton, or Thomas Pynchon meets Douglas Adams. No matter, the book is full of big, wild ideas brought to gloriously convoluted fruition. . . . Wonderfully imagined . . . [Hall is] a natural storyteller, and for a yarn this big and this beautifully convoluted, that’s what’s most important. He has written an engrossing, delirious and perfectly wacky book.” —Tobin O’Donnell, San Francisco Chronicle

The Raw Shark Texts is so much more than a clever, playful book, though it is both those things. Steven Hall has worked hard to build on the work of his intellectual ancestors. . . . Paul Auster, Philip K. Dick, Haruki Murakami, Steve Erickson, Ursula K. Le Guin—to say nothing of Beckett and Borges and Kafka. . . . His writing, description as well as dialogue, is sharp and clear, which is extremely important when you are writing on the edge of the form.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

“An avant-garde thriller in which these devil-fish of the unconscious somehow escape the symbolic realm, or rather, we join them on their side of the border. . . . Ian is a splendid character: a self-important misanthropist, invariably with ‘thundery disgust and disappointment all over his big flat ginger face.’ . . . The novel’s great virtue is its structure. . . . Information is released in pieces, like time-release drugs in a capsule, their order derived from the progressive revelation of truths rather than the forward march of events. . . . The Raw Shark Texts unfolds not in sleek cyberspace, but inside the post-Freudian human self, with its layers, its pungent humours, its debris left over from construction, and its monsters of the deep. . . . Jaws meets Alice in Wonderland.” —Sarah Bakewell, Times Literary Supplement (London)

The Raw Shark Texts is the latest in unforgettable fiction. . . . Sanderson’s cat-and-mouse search for the shark unveils a hidden world—solid, real, and vividly imagined by Hall. . . . Hall pulls it all off with such élan and good humor (and the most charmingly irreverent disregard for coherent plotting since the early work of Jonathan Lethem) that ultimately you’re charmed to have climbed into his conceptual shark cage.” —Christopher Sorrentino, Playboy (3 stars)

“[An] informal literary movement known as ‘slipstream’—a combination, as its name suggests, of science fiction, horror, fantasy, mystery and realism. . . . The Raw Shark Texts . . . revolves around “conceptual” sharks who track down humans and devour their memories, a horror-dystopic-philosophical mash-up that has critics drawing comparisons to Borges, The Matrix and Jaws.” —Ben Neihart, The New York Times Magazine

“The star of Steven Hall’s rousingly inventive The Raw Shark Texts is its villain—always a good sign in a thriller. Raymond Chandler famously said, ‘When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.’ Hall one-ups Chandler by sending in a shark. . . . Hall . . . is exploring questions of memory and grief here . . . and he does so rather deftly. But his real achievement is to create a bizarre and sinister world where language and ideas exist like a stream of nutrients, spawning predators and parasites. . . . It’s all a lot of fun, yet there is also a surprising emotional resonance. . . . Best of all, there is the shark itself, wily and relentless, with its chilling eye and gaping maw, hungry for memory.” —Tyler Knox, Washington Post

“Hyperactively playful . . . An astute reader will find dozens of playful allusions in The Raw Shark Texts to the work of Paul Auster and Haruki Murakami, borrowed textual devices from Jonathan Safran Foer and Mark Z. Danielewski, intellectual gags based on the work of Italo Calvino and a giant shark that comes right out of the work of Peter Benchley.” —John Freeman, Newsday

The Raw Shark Texts manages to reach the loftiest goal of speculative fiction: making its outlandish situations illuminate real human emotion. . . . A metaphysical book such as this easily could have become dense and inaccessible, but Hall’s unrelenting focus on visual storytelling keeps it lucid. . . . Fully succeeds in exploring the tenuous hold we have on our sense of self.” —Eliot Schrefer, USA Today

“In Hall’s buoyant fantasy, which reads as if it were concocted by a team of media-savvy undergraduates flinging together chunks of Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark, Jaws, The Matrix, Memento, Harry Potter, Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster, and Stephen King, as well as Carl Jung, triumphant. . . . Rendered with the precise attentiveness to psychological states of mind worthy of a hyperventilating James Joyce . . . The Raw Shark Texts is that most good-hearted of dark fantasies: one in which cranky old cats at sea in tiny dinghies will make it safely to shore, whatever the fate of their masters.” —Joyce Carol Oates, New York Review of Books

The Raw Shark Texts is quirky even for meta-fiction. . . . Particularly during a climactic man-versus-shark chase on the high seas, Texts is exhilarating. B+” —Entertainment Weekly

“Radical and entertaining.” —Stephen Dougherty, Boldtype

“It’s rare to finish a book and know—know beyond s shadow of a doubt—that you’ll think about that one for a while. . . . Steven Hall is the author of 2007. . . . The Raw Shark Texts is the most original and fascinating, if bewildering, book you are likely to read this year.” —Kevin Walker, Tampa Tribune

“Imagine Jaws as a literary mash-up eating its way through the contemporary information explosion. Now, imagine this creature has developed a taste for you and only you. Hall pushes the boundaries of fiction and design in this unique first novel.” —Colin Rea, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“Told with poetic accuracy . . . This book is going to be a huge success; the movie is already optioned and the computer game can’t be far behind. Wait for these versions, however, and you deprive yourself of its sheer verbal pleasure. . . . Hall . . . write[s] so vividly that you can imagine ideas themselves coming alive. . . . Finishing the story makes you wonder if the whole thing, the book and your reading of it, was a dream (and fiercely hoping it wasn’t).” —Emily Carter Roiphe, Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Raw Shark Texts is a compelling, thought-provoking, page-turning read. Like Stephen King and other writers who detour through the supernatural, Mr. Hall spins a pliant, devilishly tactile prose style.” —John Freeman, Dallas Morning News

“If your local bookstore has a Hip-Lit section, Steven Hall’s first novel is top-shelf. . . . Place it among Hip-Lit favorites by David Mitchell and Haruki Murakami. . . . A fluid, fast-paced thriller . . . The narrative is brisk, with rough edges that have the action passages erupting in sweat and strained muscles. ‘Raw’ in the book means different species of texts that give the story its sense of immediacy. . . . The twin love stories . . . are believable and quite touching.” —Vernon Peterson, Oregonian

“Undeniably very clever, highly intellectual but never highbrow, and surprisingly suspenseful for a novel that traffics in Big Ideas . . . A thrilling ride.” —Jerome Ludwig, Chicago Reader

“His work is wild, his work is wicked, and his work is unlike any other work you have ever read. . . . Dubbed slipstream by the pulp literati, Hall’s oeuvre encompasses all the sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery, and realism that the tag suggests, and then twists the lot of ’em into a whole new further. . . . There really are no precedents for what Hall has pulled off. . . . Hall catches where catch too often can’t, and in the doing he’s digging a deep that’s as blue as it is menacing.” —John Hood, Miami Sun Post

“Hall has crafted a villain for the postmodern ages. . . . Every social affliction has its monster, and now the identity crisis inherent in a pop culture in hyperdrive has a face. Or, more insidiously, a maw.” —Chuck Terhark, Minneapolis City Pages

“A frightening and engrossing yarn in the Frankensteinian vein . . . Engrossing and inventive . . . This is a fantastical, suspenseful novel that rewards our pursuits.” —Los Angeles Beat

Jaws by way of Jung.” —Tom Shone, New York Times Book Review

“Lest it all sound a bit tricksy, don’t worry—the gimmicks are backed by stellar prose. Hall has a knack for smart dialogue and quick-sketch character descriptions. . . . It’s nice to know the inventiveness that’s hyping the book isn’t trying to mask any lack of the same in the writing itself.” —Becky Ohlsen, Bookpage

The Raw Shark Texts is a dream (and a nightmare) of a first novel. . . Brainy and immensely readable.” —Colin Waters, Sunday Herald (UK)

“The book justifies the hype. . . . An innovative, postmodern, metafictional novel . .. The most original reading experience of the year . . . A literary novel that’s more out there than most science fiction . . . Genuinely isn’t like anything you have ever read before, and could be as big an inspiration to the next generation of writers as Auster and Murakami have been to Hall.” —Matt Thorne, Independent

“A cerebral page-turner . . . A fast-moving cyberpunk mashup of Jaws, Memento . . . that’s destined for the big screen.” —Publishers Weekly

“Amazing . . . Unlike anything I’ve ever read . . . Take a bold journey into Steven Hall’s colorful, twisted, and highly ambitious mind. The Raw Shark Texts‘s prose is intoxicating, the journeu without restrictions, and the final destination: Wow.” —JC Patterson, Madison County Herald

“The plot . . . unlocks like a Chinese puzzle box, each intriguing twist in the story leading to even greater enigmas and a wider sphere of conspiracy and risks. . . . Hall’s imagination is endless, and his ability to pull together these provocative details and incidents into a coherent whole is remarkable. And his creativity applies as much to the form as to the content. The book includes carious exhibits, diagrams and typographical innovations, and these quirky elements infuse the novel with a piquant avant-garde flavor. . . . Experimental . . . Hall takes chances at every corner. . . . Yet, The Raw Shark Texts is very much, as the title suggests, a text, and its most potent moments are conceptual and literary. . . . A brilliant debut by a promising author. Every so often, a work of imaginative fiction arrives—such as Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984 or Stephenson’s Snow Crash in 1992—that shakes things up and opens up a new universe of possibilities. The Raw Shark Texts is one of these books. Not only will it be widely read, I expect it will be widely imitated.” —Ted Gioia, Blogcritics

“Immensely enjoyable . . . This marvelous thriller plays off the infamous Rorschach Test, then cribs concepts from Jaws, Memento, and every locked-room mystery ever conceived, blending them into a wildly infectious story. . . . [A] beguiling bastard of a novel . . . Somehow the synthesis of Hall’s ideas, big and small, original and borrowed, creates a unique experience for even the most jaded readers like your humble columnist.” —Clayton Moore, Bookslut

“A powerful novel of lost love and identity . . . A saga of dark intrigue and one man’s effort to escape the remorseless forces closing in on him, as well as the lasting and mournful impact of losing one’s great love, The Raw Shark Texts is a compelling read and highly recommended.” —Midwest Book Review

“Sparkling with ingenuity, bold with its breadth, and innovative in its approach . . . The Raw Shark Texts is one of the great reads of 2007. . . . Compulsively mind-blowing . . . Fun and utterly compelling . . . A book that deserves to be read and pondered over . . . Should not be missed.” —James Hansen, The Journal (Webster University, St. Louis)

“Holy fucking shit. . . . [Hall has] shot himself out of the literary gates at full speed without looking back. . . . Gripping and tense, as your leg would be in a shark’s jaw, The Raw Shark Texts pummels your brain . . . riveting. . . . It’s one of those bittersweet books that you find yourself completely immersed in, only to finish and want more. Easily the best book of 2007 so far. By far.” —Jeff Siwanowicz, Randomville

“A psychological thriller with shades of Memento and The Matrix and the fiction of Mark Danielewski; page-turning, playful and chilling by turns.” —Justine Jordan, The Guardian

“Eric Sanderson is indeed a meaty character. . . . [The ending is] spectacular . . . so bold and unfeasibly breathless that it feels like the last great dice-roll in a game of cat and mouse. . . . The balance of tone and direction coupled with variation in pace makes for a glitteringly ideal mix. It isn’t hard to be engrossed. . . . It is true and moving, completing a book in which heart and head sing in tremulous balance. Steven Hall’s brilliance aspires to Bach.” —Tom Adair, Scotsman

The Raw Shark Texts is a dizzyingly good novel. . . . Clever, fun, gripping and shot through with melancholy . . . I’m sure it’s just the beginning of an astonishing career.” —Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday

“[Hall’s] extraordinarily fecund imagination and sure-footed plotting make this a dizzyingly exciting novel. Its conceptual audaciousness is very nearly ridiculous, but enables instead a thought-provoking meditation on the power of ideas and the mysteries of identity, all threaded through a white-knuckle shark hunt.” —Chris Power, Collective bbc.co.uk, (4 stars)

“The whole novel is clever, exciting, funny (a cat called Ian, for instance—I don’t know why that’s so funny, but it is) and finally, moving.” —Hugo Barnacle, Sunday Times (London)

The Raw Shark Texts is a cracking read, a riveting chase movie crossed with a Marshall McLuhan lecture. But it’s the outrageous inventiveness that mark it out as really special. The power of ideas, indeed; you’d make a fine meal for that shark, Mr Hall.” —Irish Independent

Donnie Darko meets Memento and Jaws. A postmodern spin on horror with a hip, Alex Garland vibe.” —Independent on Sunday

“Breakdancing with energy and ideas, Steven Hall’s first novel The Raw Shark Texts exfoliates the imagination. Although the novel reminds one of Lewis Carroll, Philip K Dick and Douglas Adams, Hall’s voice is original. . . . With excursions into graphics and ‘flicker-book’ visuals, Hall maintains focus and finesse throughout. Like a Rorschach Test, The Raw Shark Texts can be read in different ways, all fascinatingly open to interpretation.” —Scottish Book Review

“An absurdly confident and intriguing debut . . . Move over Damien Hurst.” —Esquire (UK)

“The fantastical elements bring another level to this unusual thriller, which is sent in an underworld where the printed word has far greater power than one can imagine.” —Bookseller’s Choice, The Bookseller (UK)

“The idea itself is rather lovely. . . . Hall sometimes drops into the affectless descriptive style of an early text-adventure game, to eerie effect; and he has a lot of fun relating the delightful variety of contemptuous expressions on the face of Ian the cat. . . . Satisfyingly ingenious . . . It is always intriguing, too, when a literary conceit re-explains what we thought we already knew, and Hall supplies such pleasures throughout.” —Steven Poole, New Statesman

“Already translated into umpteen languages and with a film-deal secured, Hull-based writer Steven Hall’s visceral debut novel is being touted in some circles as the next Generation X or Fight Club.” —Big Issue, Books you have to read in 2007

“Imagine Jaws as a literary mash-up eating its way through the contemporary information explosion. Now, imagine this creature has developed a taste for you . . . and only you. Hall pushes the boundaries of fiction and design in this unique first novel.” —Colin Rea, University of Oregon Bookstore, Eugene, OR, Book Sense quote

“Leaving your heart pounding both with the agony of lost love and the fear of being hunted by a giant shark, Hall weaves Matrix-style concepts into racy, expert story-telling to deliver a novel that is clever, touching and utterly thrilling.” —Marie Clare (UK)

“Think The Matrix meets Moby Dick, by way of Jaws, with a splash of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. . . . Once a conceptual leap is made into Raw Shark‘s logic, Hall’s tale rollocks along at a cracking pace. . . . The buzz about The Raw Shark Texts is massive.” —Metro (London)

“A postmodern odyssey.” —Rachel Aspden, New Statesman

“Steven Hall has delivered a trippy story, a meditation on love and loss (the kind of soul-crushing, impossible loss that makes one believe in conceptual fish), a thriller that will haunt you. Pass it on to a friend. Commence debate.” —Mickey Rapkin, GQ

“The bastard love-child of The Matrix, Jaws, and The Da Vinci Code.” —Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

“A remarkable book. I felt that I was in such good hands—not safe exactly, but assured. I loved the humanity of the characters. It is a very original and compelling world.” —Louise Welsh, author of The Bullet Trick

“At once a brain-warping thriller, a tear-prompting love story, and a one-way trip into the dangerous waters of the mind. This is Moby Dick meets Jorge Luis Borges by way of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The result is a fast, sharp-toothed work of genius. An instant classic.” —Matt Haig, author of The Dead Fathers Club

“Fast, sexy, intriguing, intelligent—The Raw Shark Texts is all these and more: a cult waiting to happen, a blockbuster begging to be made. Steven Hall is a truly fantastic storyteller. Investigate, now!” —Toby Litt, author of Ghost Story and Hospital

“Razor sharp, it pulls you in from the first page. Eric Sanderson has lost his identity, and his journey to get it back will blow your mind.” —Geoffrey B. Jennings, Rainy Day Books

“Reading The Raw Shark Texts reminded me of the experience I had first reading Infinite Jest and House of Leaves—Here is a white-hot new talent who has created a different kind of landscape for words—a place where words can actually save you—and the deeper you read, the better it gets. His book is a high-concept myth told with popular conventions, and it will no doubt inspire a cult following.” —Jamie Kornegay, Turnrow Books

“Try saying The Raw Shark Texts ten times, as fast as you can . . . I couldn’t either. But after reading Steven Hall’s remarkable new novel I’m confident The Raw Shark Texts will be on everyone’s lips when it debuts this spring. When a novel this inventive, this literary, is combined with a narrative that is this taut and this riveting, the only thing for a bookseller to do is learn how to repeat the title over and over again without screwing it up, because I’m confident all of us will be recommending it endlessly to anyone who’ll listen.” —Mitchell Kaplan, Books & Books

“Not since Fight Club have I read a book that sizzled with such fierce originality and searing vision as Steven Hall’s electrifying debut novel. . . . The Raw Shark Texts pulls you under like a riptide, leaving you exhausted, exhilarated, and gasping for air.” —Brad Thomas Parsons, Amazon.com

“Hall’s debut novel, starring the most ferocious and inventive literary villain in years, is a scorcher.” —Clayton Moore, Rocky Mountain News

“The novel is . . . to its very core, ingratiatingly literary . . . Hall has written a parable to appeal to those readers, especially of college age, who may feel themselves both defined and possessed by the electronic technology that governs their lives and has increasingly become a repository for ‘memory.’” —Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books

“Rousingly inventive . . . even as Hall takes great delight in showing off the details of his world with all kinds of loopy names and textual tricks . . . his methods almost always serve the purpose of the story. And for a first novelist, Hall has a nice way of hiding telling details until the end of a sentence or a scene, like the stinger at the end of a scorpion’s tail.” —Tyler Knox, The Washington Post

The Raw Shark Texts is a terribly hard book to explain, but amazingly fun to read.” —Village Books Newsletter

“Words swirl and explode in a manner reminiscent of your favorite postmodern, hyper-textual novel, though thankfully the visual gimmicks are used sparingly, lending them weight appropriate to the story’s mood.” —Zak M. Salih, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Awards

2007 Borders Original Voices Fiction Winner
An Amazon Editors’ Top 100 Books Pick
A Book Sense Selection
Shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award

Excerpt

Chapter One

Some limited and waning memory of Herbert Ashe, an engineer of the southern railways, persists in the hotel at Adrogue, amongst the effusive honeysuckles and in the illusory depths of the mirrors. —Jorge Luis Borges

1 — A Relic of Something Nine-tenths Collapsed

I was unconscious. I’d stopped breathing.

I don’t know how long it lasted, but the engines and drivers that keep the human machine functioning at a mechanical level must have trip-switched, responding to the stillness with a general systems panic. Autopilot failure—switch to emergency manual override.

This is how my life started, my second life.

My eyes slammed themselves capital O open and my neck and shoulders arched back in a huge inward heave, a single world-swallowing lung gulp of air. Litres of dry oxygen and floor dust whistled in and snagged up my throat with knifey coughing spasms. I choked and spat through heaves and gasps and coughing coughing coughing heaves. Snot ropes unwound from my nose.

My eyesight melted into hot blurs over my cheeks.

The shudder-hacking violence of no air then too much knocked me dizzy, sent the floor tilting away under my fingers. Static behind my eyes bacteria-swarmed dangerously towards another blackout and, snow-blind and shaking, I pushed my wet mouth down tight into the palms of my hands, trying to pull controlled, steady breaths through my fingers—Slowly, slowly-slowly, the world began to reappear in sickly greens and thumping purples and after maybe a minute, it steadied itself into a shaky-solid kind of balance.

I wiped my hands on my jeans and gave in to a last scratchy cough before rubbing out the last of the tears.

Okay. Just breathe, we’re okay.

I had no idea who or where I was.

This was no sudden revelation, no big shock. The thought had congealed itself under the gasping and the choking and even now, with my body coming back under control and the realisation fully formed, it didn’t bring with it any big horror or fear. Against all that physical panic it was still a small secondary concern, a minor oddity at the corner of things. What mattered most to me—a million times more than anything—was air, breath, the easy lungfuls coming and going now. The beautiful, heavenly, angel-singing fact—I could breathe and that meant I would live. Pressing my forehead down into the wet carpet, I imagined breathing mile after mile of smooth blue savannah sky as the last of the shudders worked their way out of my body.

I counted to ten then I looked up from the floor. I propped up onto my elbows and when that seemed okay, all the way up onto my knees. I was kneeling at the foot of a double bed in a bedroom. A bedroom stocked with all the ordinary, usual things. There was a wardrobe in the corner. A bedside table with a collection of water glasses of varying ages and an alarm clock with red digital numbers—4.34 p.m., a chest of drawers cluttered with deodorant cans and lids, a tub of multivitamins and the remains of a blue toilet roll, used right down to where the paper goes wrinkly, like bath fingers. All just normal bedroom things—but I didn’t recognise any of them. None of it felt strange, but none of it was familiar either. It was all just there; unremarkable but alien stuff. The thought came that maybe I’d fallen and concussed myself, except nothing hurt. I felt around my skull to make sure, but no, nothing.

I climbed carefully up onto my feet but the new angle didn’t do anything for my memory either. And that’s when the first real stabs of worry started to land.

It isn’t all coming back to me. I don’t know any of this at all.

I felt that prickling horror, the one that comes when you realise the extent of something bad—if you’re dangerously lost or you’ve made some terrible mistake—the reality of the situation creeping in through the back of your head like a pantomime Dracula.

I did not know who I was. I did not know where I was.

That simple.

That frightening.

I clamped my teeth together and turned around on the spot, three slow visual sweeps of the bedroom, my eyes touching and exploring every ordinary incidental thing and recognising absolutely none of them. I tried the same thing mentally—closing my eyes, searching around inside my head, feeling through the black for any familiar shape. But it was all just cobwebs and shadows; I couldn’t find myself in there either.

I walked over to the bedroom window. The outside world was a long street and a facing row of terraced houses. There were regular lamp posts, irregular telegraph posts and the sounds of a distant busy road—constant car engine hum, truck bang-clatter and occasional bass box thump, but—I squashed my nose up against the glass and looked left and right—no people. It was a cloudy day, grey and edgeless. I felt edgeless too. I suddenly had an urge to rush out of the house shouting for help and running for as long as I could so someone would see me and acknowledge me as a real person and they’d call a doctor or somebody who could fit me back into my proper place, the way a clockmaker realigns all the tiny makings inside a broken watch. But I had an equally strong fear that if I did this, if I ran and shouted, no one would come, no one would see. I’d get to the end of this street only to find the traffic sounds were coming from an old tape player on the corner of an abandoned, litter-washed main road in an empty, deserted world.

No. Come on, that’s not useful. I rubbed my palm heels against my eyes, pushed down the panic and tried to clear my head. Patting down my pockets I found a wallet. I fingered through cash, receipts, bus tickets and an empty book of stamps, then—a driver’s licence.

I stared at the picture and the name on the card.

The man in the wardrobe mirror carefully touched his fingers over his thin cheeks, his nose, his mouth, his short crop of dirty brown hair. He was in his late twenties, tired, pale and a bit sickly looking. He frowned at me. I tried to read the history hidden inside the frown as he made it—what kind of person wrinkles his forehead like that? What sort of life builds up a pattern of lines like those?—but there was nothing to be seen that I could decode. The man was a stranger and his expressions were written in a language I couldn’t begin to understand. We reached out to each other and our fingertips met, mine warm and oily, his cold and smooth and made only of coloured light bouncing off glass. I drew my hand back and called the reflection by his name. And he said the same thing back, but silently, just moving his lips:

Eric Sanderson.

Eric Sanderson. When I heard myself speak it, the name sounded solid and real and good and normal. It wasn’t. It was a ruin of loose masonry, broken windows and flapping blue tarpaulin sheets. It was a derelict. A relic of something nine-tenths collapsed.

“I imagine you have a lot of questions, Eric.”

I nodded.

“Yes.” Yes? It was difficult to know what to say. It was difficult to say anything. Despite the fear and the memory blindness, my overwhelming feelings were of embarrassment; incapacity, the stupidity of myself and my situation. How could I sit here and ask this stranger to help me pick up the facts of my life? The shopping bags had burst and all my things were rolling out over a packed pavement with me scurrying after them, stooping and bumping and tripping: Excuse me. I’m sorry. Excuse me. Could you just . . . Excuse me.

It was one hour and five minutes after I’d opened my eyes on the bedroom floor.

“Yes,” the doctor said. “I appreciate this isn’t at all easy for you. It must be terribly unsettling. You are doing very well though and you should try to relax if you can.”

We were sitting in a green leafy conservatory on big cushioned wicker chairs, a small wicker and glass coffee table with cups of tea between us and a small brown dog sleeping under one of the potted cheese plants by the door. All very informal, very laid back.

“Would you like a biscuit?” The doctor’s big face tipped towards the plate of chocolate digestives.

“No.” I said. “No thanks.”

She nodded at this, took two for herself and placed them one on top of the other, chocolate side to chocolate side, and then dunked them into her tea, her heavy eyes coming back to me whenever this procedure allowed.

“Awful, I know,” she said.

Dr Randle was more like an electrical storm or some complicated particle reaction than a person. A large clashing event of a woman whose frizzy hack job of white-brown hair hummed against a big noisy blouse which, in turn, strobed in protest against her tartan skirt. She had strontium grey eyes which crackled away to themselves behind baggy lids. She made the air feel doomy, faintly radioactive. You half expected your ears to pop.

I looked away as she finished her mouthful of biscuit.

I couldn’t bring myself to start this conversation and she seemed almost as uncomfortable with the silence as I did. “Well. We should get the big things out of the way first and then we can go from there.”

I nodded.

“Right then.” She thunderclapped her hands. “What I believe you’ve been experiencing is memory loss caused by what we call a dissociative condition.”

Having almost everything to ask often means there’s nothing you can ask—no single question which, if asked before all the others, won’t seem like a ridiculous place to start. And I felt ridiculous enough. And lost. And ashamed. So I just sat there.

“Dissociative,” I said. “Okay.”

“Yes. What this means is there is nothing physically wrong with you. Physically, there are no problems at all.”

In setting it out like this of course, she was actually highlighting something else, the one thing she wasn’t saying. It made me think of that old Peter Cook sketch: I’ve got nothing at all against your right leg. The trouble is—neither have you.

“You’re telling me I’m crazy?”

Randle steepled her index fingers. “What you have is an injury. People suffer injuries of a million different kinds every day. It just that the injury you’ve suffered happens to be a . . . non-physical one.”

She skirted around the word mental. Swerved around it, in fact.

“Okay,” I said.

“The really good news is you don’t have any kind of degenerative condition or sickness that could be causing permanent damage to your brain. You’re fine physically and that means there’s no reason why you can’t make a complete recovery.”

“So this is a temporary thing?”

The hard frozen don’t know time I’d been living since I opened my eyes on the carpet seemed to split a little. A warm splash of relief hit me under the ribs.

“I believe so,” the doctor smiled a reined-in smile. It reined in my relief too.

“But?”

“But we’re probably looking towards the long term, I’m afraid.”

“How long-term?”

She held up a gentle put on the brakes hand. “I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves. I’ll answer all your questions as honestly as I can, but before we get too deep into this, there’s something very important you need to hear. I think it’s best if you hear it now, at the beginning.”

I didn’t say anything. I just sat squeezing my cold sweaty-wet hands together in my lap, waiting for whatever life I was about to be given.

“There was an accident, Eric. I’m sorry to tell you your partner was killed.”

I just sat, blank.

“It happened in Greece. An accident at sea.”

Blank.

“Does any of this sound familiar?”

Nothing.

“No.”

All of it, everything, it suddenly made me feel very sick. Stupid, inhuman and sick. I rubbed the sides of my nose with my finger and thumb. I looked up. I looked away. The questions were hot and prickly as I asked them, two grabbed stupidly and randomly from thousands. “Who was she? What did she do?”

“Her name was Clio Aames and she was training to be a lawyer.”

“Was it my fault? I mean—was there anything I could have done?”

“No, it was an accident. I doubt there was anything anyone could have done.”

“Are there arrangements? Things I need to be doing now?” I came to these things as I said them. “Family? The funeral? Who’s taking care of that?”

Dr Randle’s heavy eyes pressed down on me from behind her cup. “Clio’s memorial service has already happened. You organised a wake for her yourself.”

I sat very still.

“Why don’t I remember any of this?”

“We’ll get to that.”

“When?”

“Well, would you like to talk about it now?”

“No, I mean when did I organise it?”

“Clio died just over three years ago, Eric.”

All the gathered, clutched-at and recently bolted-together facts of my life snapped, sheared and collapsed under my weight.

“I’ve been waking up without a thing in my head for three years?”

“No, no,” Dr Randle came forward, big blotchy forearms on big tartan knees. “The condition you have, well, I’m afraid it’s quite unusual.”

When I left the bedroom I found myself on a small landing. I saw a second door but it was locked so I made my way downstairs.

The threadbare staircase led to a thin hallway with a front door at the far end. Next to the front door was a hallstand table and on the hallstand table was a big blue envelope, propped up and facing the stairs so I couldn’t miss it. On the front of the envelope were big black felt-tip words: THIS IS ADDRESSED TO YOU, and underneath, OPEN NOW.

As I got nearer, I saw the envelope was only the most obvious of a cluster of objects arranged on the table. To the left was a telephone. A Post-it note stuck across the buttons had a biro arrow pointing at the receiver and the words: SPEED DIAL 1—USE ME. To the right, a set of car keys; to the right of them, a Polaroid of an old yellow Jeep; and to the right of that, another Post-it, this one saying: DRIVE ME. A brown battered leather jacket hung from a hook on the stand.

I opened the envelope and found two sheets of paper—a typed letter and a hand drawn map. This is what the letter said:

Eric,First things first, stay calm.

If you are reading this, I’m not around anymore. Take the phone and speed dial 1. Tell the woman who answers that you are Eric Sanderson. The woman is Dr Randle. She’ll understand what has happened and you will be able to see her straight away. Take the car keys and drive the yellow Jeep to Dr Randle’s house. If you haven’t found it yet, there’s a map in the envelope—it isn’t too far and it’s not hard to find.

Dr Randle will be able to answer all your questions. It’s very important that you go straight away. Do not pass go. Do not explore. Do not collect two hundred pounds.

The house keys are hanging from a nail on the banister at the bottom of the stairs. Don’t forget them.

With regret and also hope,

The First Eric Sanderson

I read through the letter a couple more times. The First Eric Sanderson. What did that make me?

I took the jacket from the stand and picked up the map. The door keys were hanging just where the letter said they’d be. I called the number.

“Randle,” a voice said.

“Dr Randle?” I pushed the car keys into my pocket. “This is Eric Sanderson.”

Dr Randle came back into the conservatory with more tea and biscuits and a box of tissues on a tray. The brown dog under the cheese plant lifted its head, sniffed in a sleepy, going-through-the-motions sort of a way, then closed its eyes again.

“Dissociative disorders,” Randle descended slowly into her creaking wicker chair, “are quite uncommon. They sometimes occur in response to severe psychological trauma, blocking out memories which are too painful or difficult for the mind to deal with. A circuit breaker for the brain, you could say.”

“But I don’t feel like I’ve forgotten anything,” I said, fumbling around again inside my head. “It’s just, there’s nothing there. I mean, I don’t think I feel anything about that girl. I don’t even—” I put my palms out in a gesture of emptiness and scale.

The Randle nebula shifted, strobed, stretched and rolled in on itself until a big meaty hand with a tissue in it was patting my knee.

“The first few hours are always difficult for you, Eric.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, as I said, your condition, I don’t like to use the term unique, but it’s quite distinctive in several—”

“How many times have we done this, Doctor?”

She didn’t even stop to think about it.

“This will be your eleventh recurrence,” she said.

“In the majority of cases, dissociative amnesias occur and resolve relatively quickly. Generally speaking, it’s the trigger event, the traumatic incident causing the condition, which is forgotten. Sometimes, the memory loss can be —” Dr Randle made a vague circle with her hand “—more general, but not often. A single recurrence of any kind is very, very unusual.”

“And eleven is off the charts.”

“Yes. These things are rarely black and white, Eric, but even so, I have to tell you—” she cast around for the right words, and then gave up.

“I see,” I said, scrunching the tissue.

Randle seemed to be thinking. The heaviness lifted for a few seconds as she turned her thoughts inwards. When she looked back over at me, her forehead knotted up.

“You haven’t had any urge to pack up and leave, have you?”

“Leave?” I said. “And go where?”

“Anywhere. There’s a very rare condition which we call fugue—”

“What?”

“It means ‘flight.’ People suffering from it do just that; they take off, run away. From their lives, from their identities, from everything.” She made a vanished-in-a-puff-of-smoke gesture. “They just go. Before we go on, are you sure you haven’t felt a desire to do anything like that?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, trying the idea for size. “No. I don’t think I want to go anywhere.”

“Good. Can you give me a line from Casablanca?”

“Sorry?”

“A line from Casablanca.”

I was in danger of being seriously left behind but I did what I was told.

“‘Of all the gin joints in all the world, she has to walk into mine.’”

“Good,” Randle nodded. “And who says that?”

“Bogart. Rick. The character or the actor?”

“It doesn’t matter. Can you picture him saying it?”

“Yes.”

“Is the film in colour or black and white?”

“It’s black and white. He’s sitting with a drink at—”

“And when was the last time you saw Casablanca?”

My mouth opened and an almost-sound happened in the back of my throat. But I didn’t have an answer.

“You see? All that seems to be missing, Eric, is you. And that’s a typically fugue-like state of affairs, I’m afraid.” Randle thought for a minute. “The truth is, I’m reluctant to pin this down with a final diagnosis. So much about your case is unusual. For instance, your amnesia didn’t even begin on the night of the accident. You appear to have shown no symptoms at all for almost twelve months.”

“And how unusual is that?”

Dr Randle lifted her eyebrows.

“Right.”

“When it finally happened, your memory loss related only to a single night—the night of the accident in Greece. You received three months of regular treatment for amnesia and you were even making some progress, but then you suffered your first recurrence.”

“Which means?”

“You suddenly lost more memories.” She left a break for me to take this in. “All the memories of your holiday in Greece had become patchy and there were little holes in memories from other parts of your life too, some of them quite unrelated.”

Little holes. Little bits missing. Things nibbled away here and there.

“And the holes kept getting bigger?”

“I’m afraid so. With each recurrence, you remembered less.”

I could feel the empty space inside me, in my skull, in my guts.

“And now here I am with nothing.”

“I know it doesn’t feel like it at the moment, Eric, but you have to keep focused on the fact that none of your memories are really lost. What you are suffering from—whatever the peculiarities of your case—is a purely psychological condition. It’s a type of memory suppression, not actual damage. Everything is still in your head somewhere and, one way or another, it will start to come back from wherever you’ve hidden it. The trick will be in working out what’s triggering the recurrences and finding a way to defuse it.”

I nodded blankly.

“I think that’s enough for today,” Randle said. “It’s a lot for you to take in all at once, isn’t it? Perhaps you should go home now, try to get some rest. Shall we meet up again tomorrow evening?”

“Yes. Sure.” They ached; my eyes ached. I started to push myself up on the wicker chair arms.

“Oh, before you go—one more thing.”

I stopped.

“Okay,” I said, for the hundred-thousandth time.

“In the past, you’ve written and left letters for yourself to be read after a recurrence. I must ask you—and this is very important now, Eric—under no circumstances write or read anything like this. It could be incredibly destabilising for you, possibly even leading to another—”

Something on my face gave me away. She stopped mid-sentence and chased my reaction.

“Has something like this happened already?”

“No.” It was a knee-jerk, things are complicated enough thing to say, nothing to do with what would be the best or not the best thing to do. Was it even really a lie? I smoothed over the bumps deciding I’d think about it later: “Well,” I said. “There was a note by the front door telling me to phone you and how to get here, just that kind of thing.”

Half true. Less than half true: Good luck and sorry. The First Eric Sanderson.

“Of course,” she said. “You should leave that in place in case you ever need it again. But please—if you should come across anything else, bring it straight to me. Don’t read it. I know what I’m asking you to do is difficult, but if I’m going to be able to help you, this is very, very important. Okay?”

“Yes,” I said. “Sure,” I said. “No problem.”