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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. , conceived by filmmaker J. J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, is the chronicle of two readers finding each other in the margins of a book and enmeshing themselves in a deadly struggle between forces they don’t understand. It is also Abrams and Dorst’s love letter to the written word.

469 pages, Hardcover

First published October 29, 2013

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About the author

J.J. Abrams

77 books506 followers
Jeffrey Jacob "J. J." Abrams is an American film and television producer, screenwriter, director, actor, composer, and founder of Bad Robot Productions. An Emmy and Golden Globe-winner, he is known as the creator or co-creator of the television series Felicity, Alias, Lost, and Fringe, and as a director of films including Mission: Impossible III and the 2009 feature Star Trek.

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5 stars
7,961 (33%)
4 stars
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3 stars
5,120 (21%)
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1 star
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,878 reviews
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
January 30, 2023
this isnt a book. its an experience. and one that captured both my heart and mind.

because i wasnt just reading a story. i was participating in a mystery unfolding within the pages and witnessing a relationship developing in the margins in real time.

this is an immersive love letter to storytelling, research, and writing.

and one i will be rereading again and again for the rest of my life, imagining i am experiencing this for the first time once more.

how wonderful that books/stories like this are created and exist.

5 stars
Profile Image for Janet Rochester.
Author 3 books12 followers
November 28, 2013
I wonder what it's like to be JJ Abrams.

Does a trip to the supermarket become a frantic sortie into a grocerian wilderness? Do battles rage between produce and deli, with stalks of celery raining like arrows upon quivering chunks of roast beef and aged Vermont cheddar? Are the pizzas lurking in a control room behind the freezer case, broadcasting shortwave signals that force the croutons, lemminglike, to hurl themselves from the shelves to the floor where they lie, helpless, waiting to be crushed by the wheels of an approaching cart?


And Abrams seems to have found a kindred spirit in Doug Dorst, for the two of them have created something imaginative and beautifully original. It's not an easy read--I don't think I've worked this hard since Absalom! Absalom!-- but it's an engaging one.

There are basically three stories taking place here: the central novel, Ship of Theseus, written in the 40's by V.M. Straka; the secret messages to his friends that Straka appeared to be hiding in the novel, as they were apparently working to disrupt the workings of a major weapons manufacturer; and the unfolding love story between two college students reading the book in our time.

As a reader who firmly believes that an author's bio is critical to a complete understanding of a work, I found many of the questions raised in this book intriguing. "Identity" is its central theme, and as such, these stories address identity at enough levels to be mind-boggling or nearly so.

It is also an identity issue that created the story's largest problem for me. The central character in Ship of Theseus is a man with no name, no past, and little control over what he must do next. That makes it hard to care about him, about what happens to him, and about what he does. And I find novels where I don't care about the characters, to be novels that leave me cold, no matter how horrific some of the things are that he endures.

Fortunately for S, the protagonist in Ship of Theseus isn't its only character. The other two leads, Eric & Jen, are people we come to know well, and care about a lot. They are eventually as open about their feelings and dreams as the other fellow is closed in his. They rescue this book from what could have otherwise been an exercise as frustrating as the latter part of the second season of "Lost" (e.g. "when I stopped watching"). The book ends the only way it can, but you won't feel gypped.

One caveat: don't start reading unless you have a goodly chunk of time to spare, because it'll suck you in like Charybdis. You'll be baffled, you'll be frustrated, and you'll occasionally wish things would move a little faster. But you'll also be entertained and maybe even educated. It's a fun way to spend a weekend. Just be careful. The diced tomatoes are always watching.
Profile Image for Wil Wheaton.
Author 89 books204k followers
January 1, 2015
I just closed the book after finishing the final chapter. I'm profoundly confused and unsettled. I think I may have to go all the way back to the beginning, and read the margins again, going in chronological order (according to the colors) to piece together Jenn and Eric's story.

I thought I'd figured out who Straka was, and *why*, but (likely because I put this book down for months) I lost the plot. I think a rereading of the margins will refresh my memory and pull it all back into focus.

I like the idea that S. will reward subsequent readings, will reveal different details that I overlooked the first time through, but I don't like feeling that I don't have time to find them all.

Still, I'm very, very glad that I read this book and feel that it was worth the time and effort.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
February 10, 2017

2.5 Stars

S. By J.J. Abrams is a beautiful hardback carefully distressed to look like an old Library book with its old book smell and stuffed full of notes, postcards, papers and bits and pieces.
When I received this book in the post I was pleasantly suprised with the faboulus concept and design. I loved the idea and could not wait to start this novel. I loved the margin notes to begin with and was fascinated to see how this story would play out.
I have to admit for all its gimmicks I soon found myself wondering is this book was just a pretty and fancy concept as I found the story quite disjointed and difficult to follow. It is a very slow read as there are two stories here. We have Jen and Erics story written in the margins of the book and the story of The Ship of Theseus in the main part of the book. I found it quite tedious to read the story within the book, then read the story within the margins and all the extra bits and pieces inserted throughout the book. To begin with this was intriguing and exciting but after about 80 pages I got bored of the book and its gimmicks and really found myself hating picking up this book to read as it was just too time consuming.

The concept, and design of this book is an excellent idea but for me there was not a strong enough plot to jusiify more that a 2.5 star rating.

If I was rating the book on its presentation and design, I would certainly give it five stars. But plot and writing is everyting to me and the phrase " All Flash and no substance" came to mind many times throughout this book.

Having read Night Film not too long ago, I think readers who enjoyed that book may find themselves drawn to this novel.
Profile Image for Casey.
215 reviews18 followers
December 4, 2013
I might have accidentally taken most of the day off to finish reading this book, and now I have a lot of feels.

There are a lot of things that I could say about this book, and I almost wish that I could go back to my freshman English class where we studied nested narratives and I wrote a paper about The Neverending Story, so that I could write about this instead. If I can compare this book to anything, it would be House of Leaves. I've always enjoyed non-linear and experimental narrative forms, and I would so much like to see MORE of books like this.

The way that this book is put together is so intricate and seamless that you don't even realize how extraordinary it is until you go back and look at it. But not only are the different stories nested (the novel, the mystery, the readers), but Jen and Eric's story is told in chronological layers as well. And somehow it was clear very quickly what these layers meant and how to read them.

I've seen suggestions to read the notes chronologically (i.e., the blue/black notes first, then the orange/green, then the red/purple, then the black/black), but I respectfully disagree. I read the entire book through page by page, and I THINK that this was probably as intended because of the suspense build. Having the foreshadowing of events to come was what made it a page-turner - I knew bits of what was coming, and had to know the journey to get there, and so I just couldn't put it down. I can, however, see the value in reading just The Ship of Theseus first (or perhaps reading it first chapter by chapter). I admit I did not pay nearly so much attention to the novel as I did to the readers' interpretations of it.

I love that this novel is a love letter to the printed page - a piece of art that could never be well translated to an electronic version or to audio. I was totally giddy upon opening it up and seeing what was inside, how complete the illusion is. The experience of reading is completely immersive - you can imagine that you've found this book in library donation bin many years later. It makes YOU and your experience of reading it another character in the story.

Brilliant, brilliant job from Doug Dorst (and for JJ Abrams for the story and conception). I hope that the success of this book (it is #1 on Amazon right now!) encourages other writers to experiment in the future.
Profile Image for Ruby  Tombstone Lives!.
338 reviews410 followers
December 16, 2013


Okay, actually, in my mind it's more like 9.5 as I had some quibbles with the last chapter, however "9.5 stars" didn't quite sound right for a heading. Reading this book was an "Experience". There was pure joy for me in this act. What more could anyone ask?

[Review to be continued, when I've had time to process it all. Also, the Chaos Reading group is doing a group read - discussion starts January 12th.]

[First entry]


I haven't even broken the seal on this and I'm wetting myself. It looks amazing. There's even a very realistic looking library sticker on it.

I love you J.J. Abrams...

10 reviews7 followers
December 12, 2013
This book probably deserves two stars, but I gave it one because I was upset I wasted time on such a mediocre story/stories. I'd watched the trailer for the book. It built the novel up as a contemporary thriller, yet did not deliver. I was excited about the interactive concept of a story within a story along with the pull outs (telegraphs, notes, newspaper articles, etc.) and J.J. Abrams being involved with the project; however, this was another reason for my letdown. I expected more. The actual story, Ship of Theseus (SOT), felt like reading a boring literature novel in high school. The constant footnotes were irritating because they’d disrupt the flow of the story and added little interest for me (I know they were meant to be connected with overall story, but, in the end, I didn’t care). There were lots of unexplained aspects, i.e. the sailors with mouths threaded shut. I didn't get emotionally involved with the other story of the two people reading SOT either albeit was more interesting than SOT itself. The guy was not an identifiable character and he came off as pretentious, which makes sense, since he was a former grad student studying the fictional writer, Straka. Overall, I felt the book misrepresented itself. It sells itself as an intriguing plot with amazing revelations to come. Actually, it was dry and cumbersome to read and didn't have a satisfying conclusion.
Profile Image for Mara.
1,637 reviews3,887 followers
April 21, 2022
4.5 stars - while the actual story of this is probably 3.5-4 stars, the overall experience of reading and dissecting this is just so fun and totally unique to anything else I've read
Profile Image for Blaine.
782 reviews656 followers
October 2, 2021
I know the you who’s in the margins. I know you’re thinking hard about what you want and why– more than some people ever do. I know you can take on a challenge and kick its ass. And I know you’ve tried harder to understand me than anyone has in a long time.
S. is an interesting, challenging, multi-layered work of experimental fiction. The physical book itself is called Ship of Theseus, and it tells the story of a man who has no memory of his past, and who gets drawn into a decades long battle against corrupt arms dealer. Ship of Theseus is purported to have been written by V. M. Stratka, a mysterious figure whose true identity has been the subject of much popular and scholarly debate. Ship of Theseus is then heavily footnoted by a translator, who appears at times to be speaking in code to the author. Finally, in the margins throughout Ship of Theseus, two students are carrying on an extended conversation with each other about the book, the true identity of V. M. Stratka, and their own lives. Eric is a former graduate student, who was expelled from the college after his advisor attempted to steal some of his work about Stratka. Jen is in her last semester, and is questioning what she wants to do with her life after college.

I found the students to be the best part of S., especially Jen, who is a completely convincing character despite only appearing through notes in the margin of the novel. As the story moves along, though not simply page by page, the passage of time is marked through the two students using different colors of ink in their notes. I chose to read the book page by page, and simply try to absorb all of the different stories that were being told at once. I have seen online where others attempted to first read Ship of Theseus, then read the first set of student notes, and then each successive set of student notes, but it appears that those who tried this method found the book more difficult to follow.

I wanted to love S., but in the end I only really liked it. Perhaps because it took so long for me to read (two months), there were parts of the story that I found confusing (in particular, all of the references between characters in the novel and who they purportedly represented in the real world). It felt as though not everything I expected to be resolved in the ending was resolved, though I have since learned that this may have been deliberate, as there appears to be a steady stream of additional content online. Make no mistake, I greatly enjoyed S., and recommend it to anyone willing to try this type of experimental work of fiction. The fact that it failed to meet my very high expectations ultimately may lay with how I read it rather than with the book itself.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,172 reviews8,386 followers
July 11, 2015
Not sure how to adequately express what I just read, or rather experienced, because this book is most definitely an experience. It's a piece of art. And like all good pieces of art, it has so many layers allowing for so much interpretation. It's complex and original and unlike anything I've ever read before and will probably ever read in the future. This book takes time, devotion, attention, and it asks you to really give of yourself in order to fully experience it. And I think, though it was not always fun to read or a perfect novel by any means, it's one that has made me think, truly dig down and consider myself and my actions and my dreams, more than any other book. And for that I am appreciative. This book came at the perfect time for me as it discusses a lot about identity, especially through the eyes of a soon-to-be college graduate. But on top of that there is the story of loyalty and love and mystery and so much, seriously, so much, happening in this novel that I can't even begin to scratch the surface in this review. If you are at all interested, give it a go. But know that it will test you and push you, and you will come out the other side different but also exactly the same.
Profile Image for Mayra.
236 reviews70 followers
December 1, 2017
4.8 stars

This has been such an amazing, unique experience. I wholeheartedly applaud J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst for creating this puzzling, entertaining side of literature. Everything was so well developed, every facet coming together in such a satisfying way. Prose, notes, postcards, pictures, maps, newspaper articles, codes… This was not just a book. It was a project. A bold one at that.

It was almost entirely perfect were it not for the Obituary. Being Brazilian, one of my biggest pet peeves – in books, movies, TV series – is when they depict Brazilians speaking Spanish. We don’t. And Abrams/Dorst thankfully used Portuguese when Brazil was involved in the storyline. In all of it, but a little piece of the Obituary, which was all in Portuguese except for 12 little displaced Spanish words left unnoticed by the editors. I know it seems like nothing, but in a book like this, where every minor detail counts toward bringing the whole story together, it broke the magic a little bit.

Other than that, it was flawless. It was an ode to literature and mystery, and I had the most awesome time reading it. In a process much like Inception, the reader got to dive deeper and deeper, finding a young Eric, inside Eric and Jen, inside Straka, inside Ship of Theseus, inside S.

I found it extremely hard to put this book down, even while it proposed such a huge commitment. Because trust me, folks, it’s a commitment. But it’s such a thrill if you give in to it.
Profile Image for Richard.
998 reviews382 followers
December 20, 2014
2.5 Stars
In these times of Kindles, Nooks, and iBooks, a novel like S. is a really exciting breath of fresh air. It's truly a love letter to physical books and a great effort in interactive reading and storytelling. The novel, written in a collaboration between film director J. J. Abrams and novelist Doug Dorst, is a story within a story within a story. The book contains "Ship of Theseus", the final novel of the critically popular but mysterious author V. M. Straka (who disappeared under unknown circumstances) with strange footnotes by Straka's frequent translator F. X. Caldeira. The book's margins include a second story, read as handwritten notes between two college students, Eric and Jen, as they try to interpret the novel and investigate who Straka and Caldeira are, while growing closer. Inserted throughout the book are physical pieces of other correspondence between , articles, essays, hand-drawn maps, and postcards.

The book is a true masterpiece in design and publishing. I can't even imagine how expensive it was to publish this, with handwritten notes in different colors and reproducing the inserts for each copy! Kudos to the publisher Mulholland Books, on a real feat! Here are a couple photos I found on the Interwebs, that gives an example of what to expect in the book:

Given how gorgeous the book is and how ingenious the concept is, I was terribly disappointed in how uninteresting the story was and how bored I was through the whole thing. The story in Ship of Theseus, of a man with amnesia, who has know idea why he has been kidnapped and sent on a dangerous journey, is...*YAWN*..... It has some interesting imagery but I found it pretty forgettable. The real story, found in the notes between Jen and Eric, is not only just as dull as the "Ship of Theseus" story, but the characters are also annoying. Eric was particularly irritating. Reading their back and forth notes got to be tiresome. I couldn't see for the life of me why Jen would be at all attracted to Eric. And once they meet, I couldn't understand why they would keep writing back and forth together in a library book. I couldn't get past that. Reading the book is a lot of work, which could turn into a fun project, but ultimately it felt like homework because I couldn't get into the characters and stories.

Speaking of that, I should detail what I found to be the best way to read the book. After some research and some experimenting, I found this to be the best way:

1) Remove the inserts and replace them with sticky notes describing them between the pages that they belong in. It was difficult trying to keep them from falling out while reading. Once you get to the page with the sticky note, you can get the corresponding insert so you have it while reading.

2) Read it chapter by chapter, including the Caldeira's footnotes. After reading a chapter, read the pencil notes (Eric's original notes to himself in the book) as well as the black and blue pen notes, (the initial back and forth correspondence between Eric and Jen). I sometimes read these while reading the chapter, if it looked like the note referred to something specific in the book's text.

*By doing this instead of reading the entire book before reading the first notes, the chapters were kept fresh in my head so I understood what Jen and Eric were talking about

3) After finishing the whole book that way, go back and read all of the notes written in Orange and Green ink, written when Jen and Eric go back through the novel again after their relationship deepens.

4) Go back again and read the Purple and Red text

5) Then read the final black and black text.

*Study the inserts as they're referred to.

As you can see it can be pretty involved. If you're reading this, don't let this turn you off too much. This book deserves to be given a chance, and you may be one of the many who really love it! If you read it, I'd love to know what you thought. One day I will revisit this again and maybe I'll enjoy it more. It's sad, because the book is a great concept, but I wish the design and concept was used to service a better story. I really wished I liked it. But it's a great example of awesome style over little substance.

*Sad Face*
Profile Image for Petra Kruijt.
Author 44 books41 followers
November 5, 2013
This book did something that very few books are capable of: it came to life, and it did so in the margins. While the old story of S. and Sola and the rickety barge with its half-witted crew is interesting in its own right, the story that really had me hooked was that of Jen and Eric. I was surprised over and over again by the things they accomplish and felt the same way Jen did about a lot of things they discover. (Just to be clear: the margins and the story itself are intertwined, but you'll discover a lot more about V.M. Straka, FXC and the modern-day cult surrounding the mysterious author from the notes than from the original text.)

It's hard to write this review without spoilers, but I'm trying to keep it interesting for other readers. If you're a tad philosophical, this book is for you. (Ship of Theseus asks questions that it doesn't always answer, but don't worry about a Lost-like disappointment where allsorts of things are promised and not delivered. The mysteries in Ship of Theseus & S. are mostly about identity and you can find your own answers.) If you're a bibliophile, this book is for you. If you enjoy an intellectual romance, this book is for you.

Then about the method of reading it. I didn't read the whole Ship of Theseus first and then the margin notes or the other way around, but first read a chapter and then went back to read the accompanying margin notes from Jen and Eric. This felt natural because I remembered what the chapter was about when I read the notes. Also I wouldn't necessarily bother to read the notes in chronological order (i.e. first Eric's old notes, then the first conversation between Jen and Eric, then the conversation in the second colour and so on) because it's just too much hassle. S. was crafted with great care and if you take it chapter by chapter, it is easy enough to follow.
Profile Image for Kevin.
661 reviews30 followers
December 18, 2013
Ugh. Gorgeous, brilliant concept, beautifully printed, but super tedious to read. A bad novel is still just a bad novel no matter how you dress it up. And the two students scribbling all over the bad novel? Who cares.
Profile Image for Lynda.
204 reviews97 followers
August 27, 2016
A tale of S.
Inspired by E. A. Poe (modified by A. Reader)

During the winter of the year 2013, while residing in Dubai, UAE, I casually made the acquaintance of S..

I gazed at S. wonderingly - bathed in the full knowledge of S.'s origins--Abrams royalty. Conceived by JJ and brought to life by his partner, D Dorst, their imaginations were singularly vigorous and creative. S. no doubt derived additional force in this world from such privileged entry, albeit from a long and arduous labor.

S. was remarkable in every respect, and excited in me a profound interest and curiosity. A handsomely presented specimen, unlike anything seen before, I was eager to know S. better. There was something about S. that bewitched me; thrilled me. The mere sight of S. sent me in to a dream, turning my back on the world of waking consciousness. Could S. introduce me to a sphere of mystery, menace and desire?

I found it almost impossible to explain S. in both convention and appearance. Fully cloaked in a fierce black covering and sealed in a translucent sheath, S. looked formidable. There was a moment of pure exhilaration when S.'s sleeve exposed a glimmer of classic refinement. My eyes grew bright to a degree almost inconceivable and my face was aglow with girlish delight. Spurred on by the impulse of desire, I gently removed S.'s coverings.

What I saw perplexed me in no little degree. While S. certainly seemed elegant on the outside, beneath the layers I had little trouble imagining S. to have had a very hard and difficult life. S. emitted a strange musty odour and bore a putrid yellow complexion. S.'s skin looked dull, battered and in various degrees of distress, and tattoo-like images covered S.'s back. It seemed that physically S. had not always been this way but somehow had been reduced from a condition of more than usual beauty to what now lay before me. I soon, however, grew accustomed to these features. With tenderness, respect and understanding, I touched and caressed S., while being mindful not to harm the edge-worn, scuffed and dented body.

There was simply no denying it; I felt an immediate connection.

Within our first few hours together, S. and I were constant companions. Little by little a very distinct magnetic relation existed. I began to delight in the multilayered and complex S. While at times S. was difficult to work out and understand, for the most part S. was exciting--different--unexpected. I could see that there was a whole lot going on within this complex S. package.

Before long S. took on multiple personalities and I followed the musings of these identities with much interest. First S. unveiled the identity of V. M. Straka, an author of the book "Ship of Theseus". There's mystery surrounding Straka's identity as well as the identity of his translator, F. X. Caldeira. Next S. unveiled two other identities; a college senior (Jen) and a former graduate student (Eric), both literary majors. Their stories unfold simultaneously and then intersect, all within the pages of Straka's novel. I try valiantly to eavesdrop on these conversations. S. provides me with postcards, photographs, newspaper clippings, letters—even a hand-drawn map written on a napkin from a coffee shop; clues that may help me to discover hidden messages and codes.

After sharing several (long) days and nights with S., my initial excitement turned into one of wariness. It was clear that S. was trying to make me understand the internal logic governing 'what' is said and 'when' by each of the personalities. Given S.'s inability to integrate the various aspects of identity, memory and consciousness, it was up to me to unleash that dilemma.

An indescribable uneasiness possessed me. I feared to progress further, lest I should be precipitated into some abyss.

I began to rethink my relationship with S. The scenery which initially presented itself had now become all too much. Overcome by exertion (and exhaustion), and by a certain oppressive closeness, a feeling of animosity existed between us.

I have since parted ways with S.

It is apparent that S. has wasted no time in moving on, experiencing close connections with others. I bear S. no ill feeling and send my best wishes for fulfilling and sustainable relationships in the future.

However, if you have yet to come across S., heed this warning.
S. is high maintenance and demands a tremendous amount from you. If you’re not prepared to give every inch to work alongside S. in examining each and every one of the personalities and clues, it’s probably for the best that you don’t begin. It's all or nothing and no in-between.

S. will remain for me one of the most staggering feats of production I have ever witnessed. S. combines mystery, literary analysis, innovation, tradition, adventure and love in an exquisite package.

While our relationship didn't last, I consider it a privilege to have spent time with S.

Postscript: More information about S. can be found here

[Overall rating: 3.5*/5]
Profile Image for Jonathan Terrington.
595 reviews573 followers
February 6, 2014

S. is by far the most intricate novel I have read in the past few years. Even the monumental work of James Joyce in Ulysses cannot quite compare to the full flavour and power of the metafiction and post-modern styling of Doug Dorst's work (inspired by the ideas of J.J. Abrams). Certainly it is a major call to state that a modern work of this kind could be more of a puzzle than Joyce's depiction of Dublin and yet I believe that it is (or at least as convoluted a labyrinth in its way). However, I do not intend to state that this is by any means a work as profound as Ulysses, merely that its design is as wonderfully complex. Yet, it is a work that reminds me more of the writing of Jorge Louis Borges, had he ever written a full length novel.

All hype aside one could easily dismiss this as a poor novel with a clever gimmick. And a poor novel with a clever gimmick is merely a shiny paperweight. However, S. appeared to me as the highest quality literature does. It appeared as a novel with multiple facets, themes and ideas. It is a novel with a nested narrative and so many clever little metalinguistic and postmodern tricks that following them all was a nice little challenge.

At its core, however, S. is a novel within a novel which contains a story within a story within a story ad infinitum. The novel within is a fictional novel, The Ship of Theseus, by reclusive author V.M. Straka. Straka is revealed as an author with a love of bird motifs, hidden messages and the art of writing in foreign languages. However, Straka is a pseudonym (which in this case proves to be a fictionally fictional name for a fictionally real character who is in our reality Dorst himself) and as it occurs, no one knows the secret of his true identity, though many wish to know. This identity is concealed with the aid of F. X. Caldeira, the translator of Straka's novels and an individual who had come to love, but never meet, Straka. This fictional history of this author serves as yet another side story to the overall novel as an entire work and feeds into The Ship of Theseus as another side story.

The Ship of Theseus as a novel in its own right is a clever invention in terms of how it is set up to exist as the work of a fictional author. In the footnotes within the book (the final work of Straka) there are plenty of hidden messages and one discovers that Straka himself has written this work as a message about his life and personality. This fictional world, in a clever touch, thereby presents a fictional reality. Further, the different chapters of the work are supposed to represent the different writing styles of (non-existent) Straka works gone before, a kind of pastiche of his other works so to speak. Or as the book itself explains, this work is a kind of palimpsest over a palimpsest (recurring).

The plot of The Ship of Theseus ultimately follows the adventures of the titular character of Dorst and Abram's work - S. He is a man without a past and with a future and therefore preoccupied with his identity (a theme which continues to be discussed throughout the book - with characters affirming that they know who S. is currently but not who he was). Through a series of events, S. ends up aboard a mystical and almost ghostly ship. Even as S. leaves the ship to go aboard land, become part of a radical group (a group shown to be similar to one Straka himself believed in) and an assassin, and his identity is changing, so too does this ship continue to haunt him. The ship subtly changes and yet it remains the same. And even as time changes (in a kind of fantasy way) and S. seems to remain constant (a hint that he is a kind of metaphor within a metaphor) - particularly in his desire to rediscover one particular woman - so this ship continues to haunt the chapters of Straka's work.

Of course, herein lies the secret to the title of this Straka novel. The ship of Theseus is a philosophical experiment also known as Theseus's Paradox. Essentially this paradox questions whether, if you replace piece by piece, the wood from an old ship with fresh wood, the reconstructed ship would remain the same. Various versions on the same idea have existed ever since, even questioning whether the ship remains the same if for instance you only replaced one part of it with another. Is it the same ship, or is it something new, some hybridised creation? Further as Thomas Hobbes questioned: if you take the old wood and replace it piece by piece and then rebuild that old ship with the old wood which, if any of the two ships created, are the original? Dorst's novel essentially on the whole questions this whole idea through the physically changing ship in the novel and also through the questions of identity: does S. himself stay the same as who he previously was or is he something new due to his lack of a past? Are we constantly changing piece by piece and becoming something new as people or are we always the same person, merely recieving refurbishing and redecorating throughout life? Is the 'me' I am now the same 'me' I was at 19 or am I now at 20 a different individual?

The concept doesn't stop here. That would be selling this artwork short I believe. No, there is another story continued in the margins and highlighting the love affair we biblophiles have with those works we cherish. It is a flirtation with words, a marginalised relationship which is discussed and observed by us as onlookers as two individuals begin a detailed discussion of life the universe and everything! , love, literature and everything in between. It is this unfolding development (accompanied by inside notes, photographs and attachments) which turn S. into more than just a mysterious work of fictional post-modern indulgence, instead creating a monument to honour contemporary literature as a whole.

Is this a literary piece, a fantasy, a romance, a mystery? The beauty of this entire work is that it is an experience of literature: containing many genres, many pastiches and many re-workings of old ideas and yet seemingly becoming something new. That said, in essence the entire creation is a ship of Theseus paradox for the potential to ask - is this a new creation or something old replaced piece by piece and refurnished? - exists. I fully endorse anyone up for a challenge to attempt to put some time away and read this. However, before entering into reading this novel I also would first ask that you choose your particular method of reading this novel. I read it as a linear novel, despite its particularly eccentric chronological scale, and was able to follow the goings on after cottoning onto the particular method by which the footnotes, sidenotes and various stories jumped around. That said if you would like a reference as to the various ways of reading this novel I recommend checking this site out: http://whoisstraka.wordpress.com/2013...
And then? Well I recommend enjoying the overall experience as it flows for you. That is what reading and living is all about.
Profile Image for Patrick.
370 reviews59 followers
October 13, 2014
This is one of the most beautifully-presented works of fiction I’ve ever seen. It’s also really quite boring. I should add that I haven’t finished it, and I probably won’t. It has been sitting on my printer for weeks, mocking me. But I can’t go back to it! And that makes me sad.

Before I can explain why it makes me sad, my first sentence needs a little unpacking — and I mean that quite literally. The book itself is a hefty, weathered-looking hardback bearing the title ‘The Ship of Theseus’ on its spine, along with a library’s Dewey Decimal sticker. The hardback comes inside an elegant slipcase of lightweight black cardboard which bears the title ’S’, and the names of Doug Dorst and J. J. Abrams. It is all very handsome. And the book is actually secured within its black sleeve by a paper band which you need to cut away before you can take it out and open it. The reason for this soon becomes clear: as soon as you take the book out and start to leaf through the pages, some things fall out. And there are a lot of things in the pages.

There’s a postcard with some handwriting on the back. There’s a napkin with a map hastily scribbled on it. There are a number of letters. There’s a code wheel. There’s an extract from a college newspaper. And there are many, many more objects, all of which have been placed strategically throughout the book. While I don’t think you’d ever mistake one of them for the real thing, they are all really well produced: the paper napkin, for example, is printed on the exact kind of napkin paper you’d actually get in a coffee shop.

Anyway, now that you’ve got the book open, you can start actually reading it (which you probably weren’t able to do in the bookshop because it was sealed inside its black sleeve). You soon find that you are reading a book called ‘The Ship of Theseus’ by a man called V. M. Straka. But you are also reading the footnotes by the person who translated this book. And in the margins, you are also reading the hand-written comments of two people: a young female student and an older male student. These two are in a kind of textual dialogue because in this world they are leaving the book around for the other to find in their college library. They bond over their shared love of this author, and so their writing is both a gloss on Straka and a sort of semi-flirtatious conversation about themselves. As with the items within, the comments are immaculately printed: they do look exactly like handwriting alongside the hard text of the actual novel. Whether the comments make for interesting reading is a different matter entirely.

I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. I really like novels which play with form in this way. I took the name for my blog from the technique of writing in the margins of a text. And I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on ‘Pale Fire’ and ‘House of Leaves’ because I love those books. I make a habit of seeking out stuff like this where I can because there aren’t very many around, so I bought this book knowing nothing at all about it or the author(s) or how it came to exist. I write this not because I think it makes me an authority, but because it makes me a potential fan. I was absolutely willing to entirely submerge myself in this fiction. I was hoping I’d be so swept up in it that I would come to believe all those things that fell from the pages were real enough to be worth caring about. All of this is stupid, I suppose, but that’s how I felt. And I was disappointed.

The essential problem is that the central work of fiction here (the actual novel ‘The Ship of Theseus’) doesn’t stand up to the kind of intense personal and investigative scrutiny that we are told it has. Here are all these people poring over this text in the margins, but the thing they are poring over is little more than a turgid mass of tropes from mid-c20th European fiction. It’s so wedded to the possibility of suggesting a grand conspiracy, so full of implied analogies and metaphorical readings, that it never actually goes anywhere remotely interesting as a story. How fun it would be if this were a playful gothic romp in the style of someone like Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I kept thinking; but it just never quite gets off the ground in the same way. And so all of the beautiful little things that fall from the pages lack any kind of narrative weight. They're just pleasant little garnishes to a main meal forever postponed.

‘Pale Fire’ got around this problem by refusing to be drawn on whether its central subject actually had any literary merit whatsoever. That the bizarre commentary of Nabokov’s Charles Kinbote makes the poem worth reading is part of the joke; and it’s one of the deepest and darkest jokes ever told in fiction. It may be unfair to compare this to what is (in my opinion) one of the finest novels ever written, but here the conceit is so similar that it practically invites it. But 'S', I’m afraid, comes nowhere near.
Profile Image for Cathy.
1,667 reviews242 followers
May 26, 2018
What a fabulous looking book!

How to read this? After some research I came up with this:

Here is one of the many webpages extrapolating on how to read this book, it is spoiler-free:

I followed the mentioned order. I mostly skimmed through the plain text though, after fully reading the first few chapters. And I left out the footnotes, because I hate footnotes. I felt pretty uninspired. There was no tension to the story and I didn‘t care for any of the characters. One star for plenty of weirdness. Otherwise it was boring and felt pretty pointless. I have never read Lovecraft, but the style reminded me somewhat of Edgar Allen Poe.

Then the margin notes, another story in several parts, wrapped around Straka’s novel. Two protagonists swap notes about the book. After initial interest—cool idea—I lost that interest just as quickly. I didn’t care about the developping relationship between those two or about what Straka was up to or what it all means in the end. I have no interest in figuring out this particular puzzle. I don‘t know, it‘s all too academic for my taste. Quite a brain fart. If the plot had at least been good and well told! The book/the authors are just trying too hard to be clever. You lost me, sorry.

Still, fabulous looking book, great idea, I just don‘t care for the content.
Profile Image for Kaora.
585 reviews282 followers
June 12, 2014
I have two thoughts on finishing this book:
1) This is the most intricate piece of literature I have ever read.
2) JJ Abrams is a fucking smart dude. (Doug Dorst too)

S. is nothing like anything I've read before. The main story is Ship of Theseus written by a writer no one knows the identity of who goes by V.M. Straka. On its own is a wonderful story. The other story is about Eric and Jen, two readers brought together through this book, communicating in messages in the margins. The color of their pens changing as their relationship evolves.

This book is so in depth you need to look up directions on how to read it. I started reading it incorrectly, but thankfully by reading other reviews discovered the right way and it was wonderful to watch the pieces fall into place.

Its a brilliant read. A mystery, a love story and more.

E: It's extremely cool how the words can stay the same but their meaning can change.
J: Because the reader changes.
E: Exactly

Recommended for everyone. Unless you are color blind. Then you probably won't have a good time.
Profile Image for PirateSteve.
90 reviews337 followers
December 31, 2016
As for me this one started with such a novel idea but then finished sadly uninterested.
Profile Image for Andrea.
800 reviews30 followers
November 29, 2015
What did I think? I finally finished reading this book hours ago and my head is still spinning. As I turned the last page I remember thinking, this is unreviewable, or at the very least unrateable. I'll try to articulate some thoughts - that will be the review - then at the end I'll see if I can come up with a number.

Firstly, I have to put it out there - this is the highest of high-concept books I think I have ever read. 5+★ for that. I was so excited to collect it from the library, along with all the warnings and instructions on how to manage the 29 or so inserts the book contains. I handled them reverently throughout the entire reading period, and am happy to say they will be returned in the right places and in as good condition as they were loaned. Along with the extensive margin notes, these are what makes S. such a unique reading experience.

Which brings me to my next point. Once I had the book in my hands, I faced an unexpected dilemma. How do I approach this? How do I read this? Luckily there is an army of readers completely besotted with this book, who are willing to advise on this very issue. You don't even have to leave Goodreads to get it (although you can - there are plenty of forums and blogs if you need to go further). So I did my research and what I came away with is that if you have the time and the patience, you would read this 457p book 4-6 times. That is, you would take between 4 and 6 passes at it, in order to get the full chronological effect of how the story unfolds. The number is rubbery because there are opportunities to streamline/consolidate the process if you wish. First pass is 'the book' - the actual story of S, as set out in the traditional, typefaced pages of the book, including footnotes. Second pass would be the margin notes made by Eric, the solitary scholar. Third, the initial to-and-fro margin notes of Eric and Jen. Fourth, the later margin notes of Eric and Jen, as the world around them begins to get a little creepy and paranoia sets in. Fifth - etc, etc. You can easily use the colours of the margin notes to distinguish which era they are meant to belong to. Then of course there are the inserts. For those, you just take the clues from the margin notes, as to when they fit into the story.

Sorry, that was a little long-winded.

Not having the time nor the patience for all that, I effectively read it twice. I would read - by chapter or section - the 'story of S', then go back and read the corresponding margin notes and inserts. I tried to organise the reading of the margin notes according to the colours, but this wasn't always possible. In the end, I think that by taking this shortcut I probably missed quite a lot of the chronological nuances, and consequently there were times I wasn't really sure what was going on. I'm thinking maybe about 4★ for the reading process, which was clearly very active. Oh, and this explains why I had to do so many status updates - so I could remember where I was up to, as my bookmark often was not reliable enough on its own.

Now to the story. I generally love a dual narrative structure, but this example is a little bit different. Although the two narratives do have an obvious connection, its not a connection in the usual sense. I preferred the story of Eric and Jen (in the margins) to the story of S (in the book). In fact, if it was just the story of S, it's not the sort of thing I would normally read. I did appreciate how each chapter of the story of S ended in a bit of a cliffhanger though, which kept it interesting. All in all, I think maybe 3★ for the story.

Would I recommend it? Yes, definitely. This is the perfect book for a buddy-read because there's so much to discuss and theories and ideas that need to be aired. Or even just for readers who are looking for something a bit different. Maybe for people who are a bit 'off' reading, and need something to reignite their interest.

Overall I'm giving it 3.5★
Profile Image for Ammara.
79 reviews3 followers
July 3, 2019
There are a lot of things to like about J. J. Abrams's attempt at interactive fiction. The story takes place entirely in the margins of an imitation library book where the two lead characters share intimate scrawls, scraps, maps and other doodads. The production quality of the book is top quality and the distressed edges and faded pages have an almost Hollywood-esque impact. The inserts in the book have incredible detail too and add another level of immersion.

Our characters meet and get to know each other through notes in the margins of the book, which take place over three different periods of time distinguished by various ink colors. It gives the readers an intimate introduction to the characters and it almost feels like eavesdropping on a private conversation. The library book itself, penned by the venerable and mysterious Straka, is not a bad read and sets up the perfect backdrop for our characters.

This is not the most simple book to approach reading-wise. There are a lot of different ways to go about reading the book. The method that worked for me was to read a page of Straka's book and then read the characters' scribblings. You can also choose to read the library book in its entirety before embarking on the main characters' journey. But occasionally Straka's story becomes convoluted and our characters have insightful nuggets to drop in the margins that you don't want to miss.

However, after the first pass through of the interactions, the novelty wears off and tedium sets in. The plot doesn't move fast enough and depending on your reading strategy, you'll find yourself going back and forth quite a bit trying to keep a track of what's going on in Straka's story and what the lead characters are referring to. It's also hard to keep your eye from wandering when the stories slows down and accidentally falling on spoilers, which ruins the immersion.

But even if the story is not memorable, the experience certainly is. It feels like the next iteration of immersive fiction elevated by a high-end and polished production design. Worth a read.

Profile Image for The Books Blender.
701 reviews96 followers
October 22, 2016

Questa recensione è presente anche sul blog: http://thebooksblender.altervista.org...

Molto in difficoltà nel dare una valutazione secondo canoni standard, ma direi almeno 4,5 (arrotondato per eccesso)!

Ebbene, lo ammetto: con un misto di apprensione, curiosità, mistica devozione per questo esperimento letterario così discusso, ho iniziato la lettura di "S. La nave di Teseo" (solo "S." nell'originale).

[No, un attimo. Prima c’è stato un lungo, complesso e logorante processo di decisione: lo prendo? Non lo prendo? Ok, sì. No; Meglio di no.
Da un lato, mi fermava il prezzo (obiettivamente, molto elevato per la versione cartacea - fortemente consigliata anche solo per la cura di tutti i materiali); dall’altra mi fermava l’ignoto. Nel senso che, se non lo avessi mai letto, non sarei nemmeno potuta restare delusa, perché, lo ammetto, questo progetto letterario mi ha da subito affascinato e il terrore che potesse essere un terribile "flop" mi ha fatto compagnia prima e dopo l’acquisto nonché durante la lettura.]

Insomma, tornando al punto di partenza: dopo lungo meditare, alla fine l’ho comprato (n.b. si tratta della versione in lingua originale, quindi ogni mio riferimento a impaginazione, confezionamento, materiali e inserti vari, ect. è a questa; ma credo che quella italiana sia altrettanto curata) e non è stato facile evitare gli spoiler in questi anni (e, non so come, ma ce l’ho fatta).

In primo luogo, il profumo. Ti assicuro che vedersi tra le mani un libro "invecchiato" (le pagine sono davvero "consumate" benissimo e il libro si presenta come un rispettabile e venerando libro in prestito) e sentirne, però, il peculiare odore di "libro nuovo" è qualcosa di indescrivibile (quasi esaltante per una maniaca dei libri come me).
In secondo luogo, le annotazioni: sono davvero curate (penna, lapis, pennarello…). Ogni impronta ha il suo spessore, la sua consistenza tanto che quasi avevo paura di passarci la mano sopra, temendo di sbavare l’inchiostro, che comunque in alcuni punti è più o meno marcato già di suo.


A questo punto, ti starai chiedendo: hai pagato circa 30€ un libro invecchiato e scarabocchiato da due mani sconosciute? Ebbene sì.

Procediamo con ordine. La storia (spoiler-free).
Due giovani, maschio e femmina, non si conoscono, per il momento, e hanno solo una cosa in comune: la passione per la lettura. E si "incontrano" per caso, quando lui lascia questo libro di V.M. Straka (La nave di Teseo) e lei lo trova. Da qui, inizia la loro corrispondenza, il loro scambio di idee, opinioni, consigli e esperienze e, sì, anche la loro indagine tramite un vettore molto particolare: il libro stesso. Tuttavia, i protagonisti della vicenda non sono solo due. Assieme a loro, e avvolti dal più profondo mistero, troviamo Straka (l’enigmatico autore de "La nave di Teseo") e il suo traduttore, F. X. Caldeira, che, secondo alcuni, altri non è che Straka stesso.
Ma il "mistero Straka" si complica ulteriormente, vista la peculiare dipartita dello scrittore e il suo peculiare passato, in cui Straka sembra essere responsabile di complotti, assassini, disastri e altre cose tutte poco piacevoli.

Insomma, si procede per cui in parallelo: da una parte, lo scambio chiamiamolo "epistolare" tra i tue giovani; dall’altra la storia narrata da Straka (la sua ultima storia) e le note del traduttore (che raccontano un'altra storia ancora). Non è finita qui, perché il mistero s’infittisce sempre più, viste le incognite e i dubbi che l’esistenza misteriosa di Straka (e del suo traduttore) pone.

A questa narrazione già molto articolata, dobbiamo poi aggiungere gli inserti: stralci di giornali, documenti confidenziali, cartoline, annotazioni su carta intestata e su tovaglioli di carta (non scherzo: c'è per davvero un tovagliolo di carta tra le pagine del libro!). Insomma, curato nei minimi dettagli e, già solo per questa attenzione, il libro vale tutti i 30€ della versione cartacea (di fatti, gli autori stessi, vista la natura particolare del loro stesso romanzo, sconsigliano la versione digitale e, per certi aspetti, non posso non dargli ragione).


Devo ammettere d’essermi ritrovata un po’ spaesata le prima pagine: cosa leggo? Prima il testo del libro? Prima le annotazioni? O i documenti chiusi fra le pagine? Leggo in contemporanea? Ma, alla fine, "allarme" rientrato: ben presto si comprende in che ordine leggere e a cosa dare precedenza (o, comunque, si trova un proprio schema da seguire per procede, senza intoppi, nella lettura). Ogni colore e ogni penna/lapis/pennarello usato distinguono non solo le annotazioni dei due ragazzi, ma anche il "tempo" in cui queste sono state inserire sulle pagine.
A questo proposito, ci tengo a fare una piccola nota: personalmente, ho preferito leggere testo, documenti e note insieme (tenendo presente che appartengono a tempi narrativi diversi), ma non esiste un ordine giusto o sbagliato per procedere.


Insomma, vedo che sto scrivendo un poema, ma non volendo (né, ahimè, potendo) gareggiare con il cantore greco, mi accingo a concludere, tirando un po’ le fila del discorso.

L’idea è innegabilmente affasciante oltreché originale e realizzata davvero in modo magnifico. Si entra in un doppio mondo in cui la finzione del libro e la finzione dei due ragazzi s’intrecciano così bene e in maniera così indissolubile da rendere la "finzione" (mi scuso della tripla ripetizione) davvero perfetta.

Personaggi perfetti. Leggiamo le loro note e comprendiamo il loro carattere; conosciamo il loro passato e il loro presente (purtroppo, non tutto il loro futuro).

Per questi motivi, chapeau! a entrambi gli autori (l'idea è di Abrams; gli scritti di Dorst) per la cura e l’attenzione, quasi maniacale, nella costruzione dell’intera storia (oltre, già detto, per l’originalità).
Ora, se proprio devo trovare un pelo nell’uovo, la storia, "scritta" da Straka (surreale, densa di metafore, messaggi cifrati, ect.), considerata di per sé non è che sia un granché (se, ripeto, letta da sola); anche perché è un po' confusa. Ciò che rende avvincente la vicenda è l’intreccio che si crea tra i vari livelli narrativi.


Devo, però, ammettere che, verso la fine, stavo diventando un po' insofferente: ok, abbiamo capito che la questione (non solo quella presente dei due ragazzi, ma anche quella passata di S., chiunque esso rappresenti) è molto segreta, molto ingarbugliata e molto pericolosa, ma… andiamo avanti! Arriviamo al punto!

Se l'idea e, soprattutto, il modo in cui questa è raccontata piace, allora ti consiglio la lettura, perché si tratta davvero di un esperimento interessante (e sarebbe bello vedere altre storie, magari anche di autori diversi, raccontate in questo modo).
Certo, non si tratta di un libro perfetto (almeno dal mio punto di vista). Come dicevo ci sono alcuni punti della trama che, un po', ristagnano; altri che rimangono oscuri (ma può anche darsi che sia stata io incapace di spremermi troppo le meningi per arrivare alla soluzione; anche se, in rete, si trova davvero qualunque tipo di illazione - alcune, secondo me, un po' azzardate). Questo per dire che, alla fine, la questione non è così chiara per la maggior parte delle persone come (forse) pareva invece agli autori (sempre che la loro intenzione non fosse quella di lasciarci tutti sospesi in un limbo letterario).
Mi aspettavo, sinceramente, qualcosa di più dal finale, soprattutto con riferimento alla vicenda dei due ragazzi (e, invece, si rimane in sospeso come se si fossero dimenticati di tirare le fila del discorso).

In ogni caso, si tratta di un libro, di una storia che va seguita e che richiede al lettore non solo di leggere, ma anche di ragionare e interpretare gli indizi che gli vengono forniti (per esempio, io ho avuto delle serie difficoltà con la ruota EOTVOS).
Difficile inquadrare La nave di Teseo in un genere specifico e difficile anche dare una valutazione secondo canoni standard.
Tuttavia, ripeto, se il progetto ti ha un po' stuzzicato, il mio consiglio è di appagare la tua curiosità e leggere questa storia particolare.
Profile Image for Christine (AR).
780 reviews30 followers
November 12, 2013
First off - twenty ZILLION points for concept and execution - this is the single most pefectly designed book I've ever held in my hands. From the vintage cloth binding (with library sticker on the spine) to the I'd-swear-they're-really-written-in-pen margin notes to the (I am not kidding) musty old-book smell, this thing is flawless. And that's before taking into account the inserts - a map jotted on a napkin, legal pad letters and worn business cards, a yellowed obituary clipped from a newspaper... so freaking cool!

The story itself... The central novel rings true, the modern day scholars are likable and smart, and the structure is so well-designed that it's never confusing even when you're turning the book on its side to read it. Every page is a little thrill, like reading someone else's journal. Recommended for fans of Griffen & Sabine, Pale Fire, Possession or House of Leaves. In other words, most people on this site, I imagine.

Every person on my Christmas list is getting a copy from me. Holiday shopping, done.
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,354 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
April 24, 2023
Love the concept—a story within a story, marginalia correspondence, ephemera—but several elements of the story leave me wanting. When it comes to mysterious correspondences, nothing tops Griffin & Sabine by Nick Bantock.
Profile Image for Wilja Wiedenhöft.
156 reviews303 followers
March 24, 2018
Abgebrochen auf Seite 120
Leider konnte ich die Geschichte nicht greifen, es gab keine Geschichte! Der Protagonist von „das Schiff des Theseus“ hatte Amnesie und wusste nicht wo er war und wer er war und irrte herum, die Studenten Eric und Jen waren sehr sympathisch aber haben zu 85% gefachsimpelt und „FXC“ (übersetzer) hat kritische Fußnoten beigetragen, die ich ebenfalls nicht verstanden habe. Die Aufmachung verlor leider rapide seinen Reiz, weil es niemanden dieser Personen je gegeben hat und all das nie passiert ist.

Ich habe mich ohne Vorkenntnisse in einer Vorlesung zu einer Charakterstudie zu einer Person verirrt, die mich nicht interessiert, da es sie nicht gibt. 🤦🏻‍♀️
125 reviews1 follower
November 10, 2013

So I think I made a mistake. I read this all in one shot and I don't think that's how I should have read it.

J.J. Abrams had a clever idea about reading a book and seeing a couple writing to each other in the margins of the book. He turned to Doug Dorst to pen the story within a story.

S. is a story about Jen and Eric reading Ship of Theseus by V.M. Straka. Jen and Eric are trying to figure out who Straka is. (turns out he was a mysterious author with a mysterious past) Ship of Theseus is about a man who can't remember who he is but finds himself in the midst of multiple events of death and (again) mysterious consequences.

I think the best way to read this clever story is to read Ship of Theseus by itself and trying to ignore the writing in the margins. Once you finish Straka's book, go back and check out the margin notes and the plethora of "inserts" that Jen and Eric leave each other.

I think the idea was good but I couldn't really get into either story. There were moments when the mystery man in Ship of Theseus gets into some crazy action and I was glued to the tale. But then he would jump back into the water, get located by the ship and things would die down and become incredibly boring. I understand that Straka's style of writing is of a bygone era but most of that tale was hard to slog through.

Jen and Eric's story (their interaction with each other) follows a similar growing-excitement-only-to-be-let-down. I was getting geared up for an unseen chase by villains who are setting fires but instead it disappeared. Did I miss something of that plot line?

All in all, I will absolutely read this book again. There are clues and codes spread out. It is a J.J Abrams concoction remember. But I was very disappointed with S. I enjoy a good mystery but I never connected in a way I was expecting.

And even though I didn't like it, I'm hoping for more from these two.
Profile Image for Mattia Ravasi.
Author 5 books3,550 followers
December 26, 2016
Video-review (entirely spoiler-free): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NldbF...
Featured in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4X6OQ...

More literary-board game than novel, S. is way more over-the-top gimmicky, way more complex, and waaaaay more well written than I expected. It's a thrilling experience and a wonderful narrative on the nature of escape and commitment, reading for pleasure VS reading for knowledge, the power and limitations of writing and reading.
If you're on the fence about reading this (and I was) you really shouldn't be, truly it's fucking amazing.
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