Sunday, June 17, 2007

Queen Loana and the Raw Shark Texts

Two more books I've read recently, sharing a theme of memory loss.

Reading these books was actually a bit difficult at times, since they
made me think about how my mum's memory loss effectively wiped out her
identity in the months before her death.

1. "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana" by Umberto Eco

This is a story about Yambo, an elderly bookseller lost his memory after
a stroke.  Strangely, he can't remember anything about his personal
life, yet he can still remember very clearly things he's read in books and
heard in popular songs.

Yambo decides to retrace his life by going back to his old house in the
country, where he grew up.  With the help of old comics, toys, posters
and books, Yambo attempts to find out who he is/was.  The novel itself
is described as an illustrated novel, and indeed it features lots of
colour pictures from comics, posters and other printed material.  These
play an integral part in the telling of the story.  Also, they provide
a pocket pictorial history of Italy, in particular from the 1930s to
post World War Two.

An interesting read, especially if you're a fan of early comics like
Flash Gordon and Mickey Mouse aka Topolino.

2. "The Raw Shark Texts" by Steven Hall

Eric Sanderson wakes up realising he doesn't know who he is.  There's a
note addressed to him from the "First Eric Sanderson", urging him to
stay calm and contact Dr. Randle immediately.  She will tell him what's
happened.  Apparently this has been a recurring sequence.  Dr. Randle
tells him he suffers from a dissociative disorder, where he loses more
and more of his memory.  The death of his girlfriend while on holiday
was the trigger.

At this point you'd think this story is a bit ho-hum, but then things
start getting really interesting.  He continues to receive letters in
the mail, apparently from the "First Eric Sanderson".  His former self
is telling him that his memories have been taken by a Ludovician - a
"conceptual shark".  This shark has been feeding off his memories for
a while.  The shark must be destroyed, otherwise Eric will lose his
identity completely.  So begins his quest to vanquish the Ludovician.

Along the way he:
* journeys through Un-Space (e.g. disused attics, derelict factories,
  boarded-up houses, ducting etc)
* attempts to decode messages from himself
* meets Scout, who remarkably shares the exact same tattoo on her big
  toe as his deceased girlfriend
* meets the mysterious Dr. Trey Fidorous, doctor of languages and
  expert in all types of conceptual fish

Scout has her own quest to defeat Mycroft Ward, who has found a way to
make himself immortal via cyberspace.

As if the narrative wasn't fluid enough, there's a 50-odd page flip book
section describing part of the action as the story reaches its climax.

The ending is a bit ambiguous, but then in some ways that's to be
expected.  People have described this book as the Matrix meets Jaws.
The letters from Eric's former self are reminiscent of Memento.

However, I should warn you that this book can mess with your head a bit,
and may not be for the feint-hearted.  You might question what is
identity, and how do you know for sure that you are sane, or are you
actually insane but think you're normal?