S. | Review
Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐
"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."
S., also known as Ship of Theseus, is a fiction novel conceptualized by J.J. Abrams and written by Doug Dorst. The novel is also published under the fictitious author V.M. Straka.
This is a very unique book, and I sought to read this purely because of that fact (for a secret reading challenge I am doing). Yes indeed, as well, the mind behind this story is none other than J.J. Abrams, the director and creator of many, many, sci-fi movies and series. We are talking about the person who co-created Lost, the show that I still think hands down had the best first season of any show.
So, I was expecting this to at the very least be a 3.5-star read, even though I went into this pretty much completely blind. I had no idea what this was about nor how it would be formatted even though I knew it wouldn't be normal because this is multi-media. Because of that, it did take me a while to get through it because it is harder to follow along with what is going on. That aside though, I did end up rather enjoying the story.
Let's get into the details.
I have lots to talk about in this section because, well, there is a lot to this book. When I went to the library to pick up the book, since you have to read this physically, I was really confused because the book was in a folder. Turns out, the book comes with extra content that corresponds with specific pages within the text. Luckily the package the book came in listed exactly what pages each piece corresponded with, but if not you can easily find it online.
On top of that, the book is separated into two stories - The Ship of Theseus (the main story), and the margin notes. I of course will get more into this in the next section, but I wanted to talk a bit about it here because the dual plot, and extra content, make things a bit complicated. That is because reading this book is a little tedious. You read the main story, The Ship of Theseus, and then you have to follow both the footnotes and the margin notes when directed.
It gets really complicated really fast, but once you get used to it reading it becomes a lot easier. I do recommend that you read it this way though. Some books with a similar format you can read one part and then go back and read the other, but you have to read everything at once or else you won't have the needed context for it to make sense.
To make things even more complicated, the margin notes are written in different colours which represent different time periods, or read-throughs. It isn't stated explicitly what the dates are, but you can pick up which colours correspond to which time easily enough. At some points though it gets really confusing because events don't line up perfectly.
All of this aside, I do have a couple more comments to make. On the positive side, this was well-written and some of the imagery was described extremely well. On the more negative side, there are instances, aside from the ones mentioned above, that made the story a bit confusing to read. I am nitpicking here, but the lines of one character aren't put into quotations often which did end up throwing me off because it scrambled my brain a bit.
Again, lots to delve into in this section because there are two different, but interconnected, plotlines that we follow. Firstly, we have The Ship of Theseus, the core story that is told in this book which is essentially a book in and of itself. This is why the book is written under the fictional name of the author of the story, V.M. Straka. Should you pick up the older version of the book, his name will be on the cover, but he is the fictional author of the book so keep that in mind if you get confused.
So, Ship of Theseus, written by V.M. Straka but then compiled, completed, and translated by F.X. Caldeira. This story follows an amnesiac only known by S., who wakes up after being submerged in a river and ends up on a perilous journey while trying to unlock the secrets of his unknown past. I rather enjoyed reading about his journey, at least up until it started to come to a close. There were a lot of elements I enjoyed, from the mysterious symbol that keeps appearing everywhere to the ship and crew S. ends up on.
I did say though that my enjoyment started to damper towards the end, and there were elements of the story that I enjoyed less throughout the story as well. For example, S's focus on Sola was not a plot point I cared too much about. I thought it a bit odd that he was so focused on her both because he had no memories and therefore wouldn't remember her even if he knew her, and just because they were strangers.
That aside though, I did have some issues with the direction of the story. As the story ramped up and headed toward the climax, I found that it started to slip a bit. Maybe it was because I started to lose interest, but I found that the story started to feel a bit rushed and it lost a lot of needed context to make the story clearer.
Moving on though, let's talk about the other half of the story, the margin notes. We follow Jen and Eric, two people who correspond with each other through these notes as they aim to uncover the clues in the story to unravel the mysteries behind the curtain. As I mentioned earlier, this is a book about a fictional book written by V.M. Straka, and Jen and Eric examine the text in order to figure out just who the author actually was, and what the story really means.
I didn't know if a story told in that kind of format would work, but it actually did. It is strange to get to know characters in this way, never really getting to know them, but you actually end up getting a lot of their stories in the margins. Admittedly, I can see why some people may find this side of the story boring since it is just them getting to know each other and making notes about things they have discovered about Straka and co., but I didn't find myself bored at all.
The only negative thing I really want to say here is that the story didn't feel wrapped up. There was a lot of tension being built up regarding Jen's life, and it just kind of fizzled out in the end with no resolution. In general, I found their story to end with me wanting a lot more from it because I didn't get many answers and no conclusion as to where their future leads.
I did already mention the characters and their story in the previous section, so I don't have too much to talk about here. Starting with Jen and Eric, I liked the latter more than the former. Jen was frustrating at times because I couldn't really understand her mindset and motivations. She also would snap at Eric a lot when he was trying trying to help her which made me like her less.
Despite that though, the author did manage to flesh out their characters extremely well given that we only get to know them through short notes. We are literally limited in the space given to get to know them and to develop their characters, but luckily they felt like real people.
As for S., well, he was also fleshed out enough for a character with amnesia. Again, I wasn't crazy about his single-minded focus on Sola, but he was a fine enough main character to follow.
Don't get me wrong, this book is tedious to read and it took me way longer than usual to get through it. Despite that though, I didn't feel like putting this down even when my interest dropped towards the end.
If you like stories with a multi-media format then maybe you will like this as well.