Author: J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst
Release Date: October 29, 2013
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
V.M. Straka was a prolific author who has a aura of mystery around him. Nothing is known about him besides what is in his novels; there are rumors that he was a madman, a murderer, and more. His final book Ship of Theseus is perhaps his most enigmatic; the story of a man who boards a ghost ship, it’s filled with strange footnotes from Straka’s translator. College senior Jen stumbles upon a copy of Ship of Theseus one night in the library, a copy that a graduate student named Eric has annotated, and by passing the book back and forth and making notes, they try and uncover the truth behind Straka’s identity.
S. is a novel that you really have to work for, but it’s worth the effort. The book-within-a-book structure is fascinating and well thought out; it’s an experience, more than just a book, and die-hard readers will appreciate the care that went into crafting it.
It’s hard to even know where to begin with S. It’s such a strange and wondrous experience; it’s fascinating while also being a tremendous amount of work. I’ll start with the physical book. It’s clear that no expense was spared with constructing S; it’s thoughtfully put together, and there’s a certain wonder in just opening it and seeing what’s inside. When you purchase the book, it’s in a shrink-wrapped slipcase. Open the plastic and take out the book inside and you’ll find, not S, but Ship of Theseus by V.M. Straka. It’s a gorgeous, musty old library book, complete with stamps. Open it up and you’ll find multiple annotations in two different sets of handwriting, a conversation going back and forth about Straka, the novel, and their own lives. Not only that, but there are newspaper clippings, drawings on napkins, and more inserted between the pages of the book. As I’ve said, it’s just very well done.
Then there’s the characters Jen and Eric. It’s so interesting to watch these two strangers form a relationship through their notes. They’re not just discussing the mystery of Straka; they’re also talking about their own lives. The reader really gets to know them through their notes, to understand their personalities and their circumstances. It’s nice to watch them become close, though I’ll admit that Jen drove me crazy more often than not. She’s very unsure of what she wants from the world around her, and pushes boundaries in a typical teenage rebellion.
The center of S is V.M. Straka himself. Who was he? Which of the many rumors about him are true? This is an intriguing mystery and will really keep readers hooked. But it’s not a puzzle that is 100 percent resolved in the book; the story goes on, outside its pages. There are websites that go along with the book, encouraging further exploration, and many mysteries you can decode yourself. Not to mention the actual Ship of Theseus—a completely separate story with multiple annotations from two people from different periods of time. This book takes WORK. It’s worth it, but it’s not the sort of thing you want to approach when your attention is divided.
S is a book of layers, and Doug Dorst (the author—it was J.J. Abrams’ idea, and Dorst executed it) did a great job with it. There so much within these pages that it’s impossible to capture everything in one reading. This is a book you’re going to want to go back and flip through again and again, to understand more, but also just because it’s so beautifully done. If you’re looking for a gift for someone who loves books and mysteries, then S is absolutely a perfect gift to give; it looks great on a shelf and will provide hours and hours of entertainment.