LONDON - Like many young novelists just starting out, Steven Hall sometimes wonders if what came before him hasn't exhausted his art form. He worries that everything there is to say has been said.
"We have so many different kinds of media now, and stories are really everywhere," says the 31-year-old writer from Manchester, England, "that it's kind of hard to write as if that isn't the case.
"I'd be amazed if anyone came up with something totally original."
While some writers take one look at this dilemma and stop working, Hall found in it a shining opportunity - one he recently unleashed on the United States. In his hyperactively playful debut novel, The Raw Shark Texts, he simply retells a very old yarn - man gets lost, sets out on adventure to be found, and meets girl along the way - tipping his hat to every writer he borrowed from.
Sitting at a cafe in London's Holland Park neighborhood, Hall talked about the literary influences that stalk his work and why television has made literary theory accessible:
Q: Your novel is the third book this year that revolves around the issue of memory. Why are amnesia stories so common now, do you think?
A: It's interesting the way clusters of ideas develop at certain times. I think maybe we are kind of living in a time when we want to think about who we are. I also think the tools I use in this book, and Tom McCarthy uses in his book (Remainder), have become much more mainstream, the idea of memory as postmodern narrative device. Postmodernism was very avant-garde in the '60s, but I think now we've assimilated - it's not a difficult thing - and we can use it to tell stories that are now quite fascinating.
Q: Let's talk about that. You use a lot of narrative gadgetry that should feel far-out, but doesn't. What happened to make it accessible?
A: Well, you've got The Simpsons, which is probably the most postmodern television show ever, but nobody finds it strange or difficult at all. I think these shows are taking that sensibility and are feeding it back into literature, which is where it came from. I kind of like the idea of smashing different ways of storytelling together, and using forms of storytelling that are from somewhere else, and seeing how much cuts across and how much doesn't.
Q: Tell me a bit about yourself. Were you a bookworm as a kid?
A: I think the first book I took to and I was really proud to have read was Stephen King's It. You know, it's a massive huge great book, and it scared the bejesus out me, and I was also quite proud to get through that. As a child I read all the time. I think I got to my interest in books quite early on. I also used to draw and eventually went to study fine art at university. And I guess this came around full circle when I started to work on this book and think about narrative and storytelling.
Q: Now tell me about the shark theme in this book. Do you have a phobia of them?
A: I'm fascinated by them, and I suppose I must fear them a little bit, too, and I'm fascinated by the ocean. There's that alien-ness to how it extends into the dark. I'm almost qualified to scuba dive. I'd love to go down in a cage and look at the great whites. It's funny, because I'm not very good at fairgrounds: I can't do roller coasters, but I will quite happily get into a cage with sharks.
Q: This is a fun book, but it's just drenched with loss, too. Do you have experience with this?
A. Yeah, but everybody has had someone taken from him. People move through your life and gradually disappear; you almost lose that facet of yourself that they made for you. I was trying to accelerate that process as much as possible [with narrator Eric Sanderson], and the poor guy is hit with everything at once. I wanted to take everything from him at once and see what he was left with - and he just sits there suppressing it, until it comes looking for him.