S. (The Ship of Theseus), by Doug Durst & J. J. Abrams
The chronicle of two readers finding each other, and their deadly struggle with forces beyond their understanding–all within the margins of a book conceived by Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst.
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 rumors 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.
S. contains 22 inserts and will be delivered in a sealed slipcase.
I was enchanted, enthralled, and thrilled by this book. With feelings such as The House of Leaves stirred, I was pulled through both The Ship of Theseus and the evolving relationship and lives of Eric and Jenn, caught in a duel suspense given by the interwoven themes of both.
We meet Eric and Jen in the margins of a misplaced book The Ship of Theseus, whose notes and highlights both help tell S–.’s story (the main character of The Book of Theseus), as well as portray the organic development of the friendship that emerges from their shared obsession with the author of said found book, V. M. Straka. With inserts such as postcards, newspaper articles, and translated telegrams there are so many facets to this book that made it an instant favorite (and make hardcover the only medium to read S. in).
Part of the brilliance of the book was due to how much information the reader is able to extrapolate from very little. Half-way through the book, I realized how much I “knew” about the lives of the two margin scribblers through just a few lines of “dialogue.” Talk about a writer who understands: “Don’t give them 4. Give them 2 plus 2”. In the margins, we’re given an entire second book.
Because of the intrigue surrounding Straka, the questions of a possible hidden cipher within The Ship of Theseus’ pages, and the strange events happening to the readers, an aura of suspense throbs through every word. Even the story of S –., wandering unaware of his past, compelled to follow his present, pulls a skin-crawling sense from behind the fourth wall. I couldn’t figure out what genre to label this book.
What I didn’t know, until writing this review, was that this Ship of Theseus theme has been around since Plutarch (died 120A.D.).
The ship of Theseus, also known as Theseus’s paradox, is a thought experiment that raises the question of whether an object that has had all of its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object… Plutarch asked whether a ship that had been restored by replacing every single wooden part remained the same ship.
Finding this out makes the entire book more pointed, maybe taking the brilliance level down the tiniest bit, as there was much help in the development of the story through a mass of conversation on the topic through the centuries (I found a great article on the topic here), but didn’t change my overall opinion. Actually, I think it makes the book more literary to know this background…
As soon as I finished it, I wanted to re-read it.
If you like peeking behind the scenes of literary scholars, loose mystery, and/or creepy overtones, this book is for you. Did you like House of Leaves? 14, by Peter Clines? You’ll like this.
Happy reading 🙂
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