S. – Doug Dorst & JJ. Abrams Review

S. One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace, and desire.

A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.

THE BOOK: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V. M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched onto a disorienting and perilous journey.

THE WRITER: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world’s greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumours that swirl around him.

THE READERS: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they’re willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts, and fears.

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Random page of the book

This is such an incredibly packaged book. It’s beautiful – a love story to the physical book. It consists of the main text Ship of Thesus which looks exactly like a library book. It even has that musty library book smell. (HOW DID THEY DO IT?) Inside this library book, there are notes that two readers, Jen and Eric send back and forth to each other. There are also various items (like handwritten notes, postcards, a map drawn on a napkin etc.) tucked between the pages. As books go, it’s BEAUTIFUL. I’m mesmerized by the amount of work it must have taken to put it together.

The book is also multilayered as is mentioned in the plot summary above. The three layers consist of the actual book, the mystery behind the author and the translator, and the annotations in the novel written by the readers.

Now when I learned about this highly conceptual book (and when I learned it was designed by J.J Abrams of Fringe fame), I was extremely excited to read it. I was so enraptured by the idea of it and I couldn’t wait to dive in and lose myself in this brand new world. My expectations were sky-high, which might explain why I didn’t love this book.

The book, Ship of Theseus, is extremely existential. It’s not surprising since it was developed by JJ Abrams, but while I was interested in the story, I wasn’t completely in love with it. I really wanted to read it superficially, but since I knew it was a small part of such a big story, I found myself analyzing it deeply and looking for nuances and important codes. I really dislike analyzing books, and I’m also not a huge fan of existential novels, so I was pretty underwhelmed by Ship of Theseus.

The story of Eric and Jen was more exciting for me. They were on the same kind of journey the reader was on – trying to discover what the book meant and the mystery behind it. They were trying to discover who V.M. Straka was and why he was never part of the public eye. I really liked the characters of Eric and Jen and even in text, they were very different people. We got to know them as three dimensional characters and also apart from the conspiracy of V.M. Straka and F.X. Caldeiro. They were the best part about this novel, but the sheer number of layers within their annotations made it really hard to grasp everything we needed to.

Perhaps I’m not smart enough for this book, but it was extremely convoluted and the payoff didn’t live up to the expectations.

There’s a huge cult following surrounding this book now. I mean, it’s to be expected since we know there are things Eric and Jen missed and hint at but never fully explain. If you’re interested in continuing the mystery, you can check out the following websites:

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