The novel S. is less of a conventional story written using words than it is an experience using the book as an object that mystifies the reader into a multi-layered tale of intrigue, young romance, and mystery. S. is told through the imaginary novel, Ship of Theseus, written by a Kafkaesque V.M. Straka whose real identity is unknown. Ship of Theseus is filled with actual letters, post cards, and the secret messages between two Peghorn University students who use the book to learn about each other and the identity of Theseus’s author.
S. is such a unique novel and is essentially two books crafted into one, the fake Ship of Theseus by Straka, and S, the actual novel that is told using the Theseus as a canvas to tell the mystery of an illusive Free Masonish secret society that could have been behind major historical events in the early nineteen-hundreds, Straka’s involvement in them, and why this society wants the two college students to stop trying to unravel this literary mystery.
Ship of Theseus looks like a book that has been sitting on the shelves of a university for decades, complete with an actual dewy decimal library sticker on it’s spine. The back cover reveals the stamps of each and every student checkout throughout the years. Every page is covered in the handwritten notes of Eric, an English graduate student studying Straka, who was kicked out of Peghorn University after an explosive event, and Jen, the university library assistant who is unsure if her degree or even college is right for her. The notes between them give a refreshing breath of analog communication in a time of social media and texting. Exchanging the book back and forth, they wait on each other’s words for encouragement, new details that they discovered of who Straka was, and using the actual Ship of Theseus’s text to comment on their moods, inhibitions, and even occasionally flirt. Different pen colors denote different time periods between the two students and occasionally, the times intercept on the page giving you a glimpse at the terror they share for being hunted by the illusive society for their findings, or a glimmer of future hope at their eventual meeting up.
S. is a book that can only ever be a book. Stuffed full of the props of an actual correspondence, the added details could not be separated from narrative. Even Librarians are not ordering S. due to the dozens of loose items stuffed between the pages, making it an organizational nightmare for them. With no instructions on how to read S., the book is a mystery in itself that is to be read slowly and carefully, as if you were to find such an object sitting on a shelf somewhere.
Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams have crafted a unique experience that is only for patient readers, but the reward is pure fascination in it’s pages.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
Author: Doug Dorst with J.J. Abrams
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Release Date: October 29th, 2013