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April 18, 2007

Book Notes - Steven Hall ("The Raw Shark Texts")

The Book Notes series has authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts is a truly innovative debut novel and one of the most talked about books of the year.

From the Independent's review of the novel:

"The Raw Shark Texts is, for once, a novel that 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."

In his own words, here is Steven Hall's Book Notes essay for his novel, The Raw Shark Texts:


People ask me lots about books and films - if I have seen such-and-such or read such-and-such and to what degree whatever-it-is has influenced The Raw Shark Texts. People rarely ask me about music though, which is strange because there’s a lot of music in the book and a lot of music went into writing it. There are even a few musical puzzles - spotting a song title and a few seconds searching for song lyrics will give a reader a nice little Raw Shark Easter egg of one sort or another (but I don’t want to give those away here!).

I thought about putting together a playlist made wholly of mash-ups or cover versions, which might have been clever and fun and could even have worked as a commentary on my ideas and aims in a roundabout sort of way. Maybe a bit too clever though, and not very honest. Instead, I’ve decided on a playlist that tries to capture the tone and mood of The Raw Shark Texts. It’s a list of songs that helped me find and hold onto the mood of the story and songs which I’ve heard since which feel very close to what I was trying to get down on paper. Here it is:


1) The Littlest Things by Lilly Allen from Alright, Still

I try not to think too much about a film version of my book. I get asked a lot about who I’d like to star in the movie if it happens and who I’d like to direct and I have to say ‘I don’t know’. This is because I know that if I started with fantasy casting it wouldn’t be too long before I had the whole thing storyboarded in my head, with all the camera angles, dialogue and effects in place. And if that happened, then when a movie eventually came along from someone else, I’d find myself disappointed, just because it wouldn’t be the way I would have done it. So I try not to go there at all.

Well, mostly. If there were one thing I could ask of the film people it would be for The Littlest Things to run over the opening credits of the film.

I love it that this song is so fragile, simple and everyday. It’s not a song that brings to mind gigantic conceptual sharks, or adventures, puzzles, codes. This is just a song about a girl missing a boy and a life that isn’t there for her anymore. That’s really the heart of Raw Shark for me.

What do you think film guys? Please..?


2) Hinterland by AiM from Hinterland

I listened to this song over and over when I first started work on The Raw Shark Texts – this tune was so influential in terms of feel and tone that the earliest draft of the manuscript even had the working title ‘Hinterland’.

Those fantastic spoken word samples: “I can’t name it. It’s just there, the thing is there and I have to go see it. The monster, the God, the rat, the snail – whatever’s out there I have to go see it and look at it, and endure it. Or maybe not endure it ... I can’t explain it. If I could I wouldn’t go” over a haunting, drifting, the-world-just-behind-this-one tune made this song something close to a style sheet in the early days of the novel.


3) End of a Century by Blur from Parklife

I love the familiar, day-to-day type of melancholy this song creates - a slightly sad and inevitable sense of ending which always manages to avoid feeling forced or overdramatic. A sort of natural ‘just is’ sense of entropy. “She said there’s ants in the carpet, dirty little monsters…”


4) St Elsewhere by Gnarls Barkley from St Elsewhere

I’ve struggled to limit myself to one Gnarls Barkley track on the list. I thought about Storm Coming, Just a Thought and Crazy too, but in the end it had to be this one – that melancholy from the Blur track carries over nicely here and twists into something heartfelt, haunting and also slightly creepy.

How great is Danger Mouse? I’ve been working backwards from St Elsewhere via The Mouse and the Mask to the Grey Album. Speaking of which –


5) Encore by Danger Mouse from The Grey Album

Mixing the Beatles White Album and Jay Z’s Black Album is a stroke of genius, if you ask me. I love the game of it but also, the album itself is just stunning. A little forward momentum and energy for the playlist too. In the novel, Eric Sanderson finally climbs into his yellow Jeep and sets off to get involved in his own life about now.


6) La Rock 01 by Vitalic from Okay Cowboy

Just a thumping base with a spray of electronic squeaks and whistles for the first 50 seconds of this track, then a rough and jagged tune - somewhere between a keyboard and a jet plane taking off - starts to rise up from the depths of the song, getting louder and louder and louder until it’s threatening to burst your eardrums (you have to turn everything up for this one!).

This is the closest I’ve come to finding a conceptual shark take on the classic Jaws theme. La Rock’s a track just loaded with menace – it’s coming up, it’s coming up and it’s coming to get you...


7) Arigato by Fonda 500 from Spectrumatronicalogical Sounds

I was tempted to include either the wonderful Robotic Samba Programme or the heartbreaking Mexican Spaceman instead, but Mexican Spaceman is too sad and Robotic Samba is, well, it’s got robots in it.


8) Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying by Belle & Sebastian from If You're Feeling Sinister

I’ll settle down with some old story
About a boy who’s just like me
Thought there was love in everything and everyone
You’re so naive
They always reach a sorry ending
They always get it in the end…

This could be the Eric Sanderson theme tune! A beautiful song. If you haven’t heard Belle & Sebastian’s music, you really, really should.


9) Hells Bells by The Dandy Warhols from Come On Feel The Dandy Warhols

This slow, moody cover of the famous AC/DC guitar-strangler could have easily found its way onto the Kill Bill album, it’s all high noon and Clint Eastwood. This is showdown music at its best, and it’s just right for man-on-sinking-boat vs. gigantic killer shark....


10) Imagine by DJ Numark & Pomo from Blend Crafters

We’re hearing more and more about Cut Chemist but I’ve got to say Blend Crafters has made me a 100% Numark fan. Think it’s a great album from beginning to end, but the combination of hip-hop bass, tight piano loop and some sort of jazz horn on this John Lennon cover really is special – the tune manages to be familiar and new at the same time. That’s something I tried to push for with the end of the novel too.


Steven Hall and The Raw Shark Texts links:

the book's website
The Annotated Raw Shark Texts
the author's MySpace page
New York Times feature
the author's Wikipedia entry
the book's Wikipedia entry


reviews of The Raw Shark Texts:

Los Angeles Times review
Guardian review
Independent review
BBC Collective review
NPR review
The Australian review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Daily Scotsman review and interview with the author


see also:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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