To describe this book as hyped barely does it justice. The film is already being lined up and, as every article about the book will tell you, Nicole Kidman enjoyed it so much she rang the author to tell him so. Publishers Canongate are putting some effort behind the book too: the hardback first edition comes in an unusual shape, has the cover design printed directly onto it and the text is packed to the gills (sorry) with typographical tricks; it's promoted by an internet treasure hunt that ropes in Flickr and YouTube and there's a viral video, starring Tilda Swinton, on the way. But is it any good?
It certainly is. Reminiscent of authors such as Paul Auster and Chuck Palahniuk and films from The Matrix to Jaws, this is a compelling intellectual romp. It's packed with so many literary and cinematic references that nobody could spot them all.
It begins with Eric Sanderson waking up on the floor in his bedroom to discover that he has no idea who he is. A note by the telephone tells him to call his doctor, who tells him he is suffering from dissociative fugue disorder, a condition brought on by the death of his girlfriend. It has caused him to lose his identity several times in the past; this is the eleventh time he has lost his memory.
However, a series of letters from "the first Eric Sanderson" offer a different explanation: Eric is the victim of a Ludovician, a conceptual shark that lives in the sea of human communication. This particular shark has his scent and keeps returning to feast. His only hope is to use the safety measures the first Eric has taught him - a fake personality and a 'shark cage' made of dictaphones - and seek out Trey Fidorous, the reclusive language expert who just may be able to help him defeat the monster.
What follows is a delight. It's nowhere near as deep as it would like you to think it is but that's not a problem. The silly intellectual tricks all add to the strangeness of the novel's world.
My only gripe is Hall's desire to leave so many questions unanswered. While this is a surefire way to create a cult hit - readers will spend months puzzling over what it all means - it feels like a bit of a cop-out on the author's part. The ending is frustratingly ambiguous, though the chapter title gives a clue to what Hall would like you to think.
This is a great book. Read it now before everyone on the Tube has a copy.