Book Review: “S.” by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams
The literary experiment S. came out in 2013, and I recently finished it. S. contains the book Ship of Theseus by the fictional V.M. Straka, an author who almost seems real. It is clear that Straka is an interesting author to study and analyse. This is also is exactly what characters Jen and Eric do, writing notes in the library’s copy of Straka’s famous last novel to communicate. Whereas the book does touch upon interesting themes and elements in today’s literary society, it can be quite hard to decipher and, in the end, to read.
A great read with thoroughly developed narratives, but puzzling at times.
The book is a great read, inviting the reader to get to the bottom of who Straka really is. In order to do so, though, you have to decide on a reading strategy as the book can seem daunting at first. Personally, first reading Straka’s narrative and then Eric and Jen’s notes was the easiest option. If you’ve done that, you can look for clues and form your own idea on the whole mystery.
As you can probably imagine, the concept and execution are really well done. With the narrative by Dorst and the overall design by Abrams, the book really is a collector’s item. The imagery and writing combine almost effortlessly. The whole idea of using the title Ship of Theseus in a narrative within a narrative, raising questions on whether the original story is still really there, is brilliant. The downside to all the inserts is that it becomes quite a big puzzle to solve. There are so many clues that sometimes you do not know where to look. The book still remains daunting even if you go through it in a structured manner.
Still, the book addresses some interesting themes which almost make up for the book’s complexity. As V.M. Straka’s identity is unclear, so is the identity of the main character in Ship of Theseus. This forms a clear parallel within the two narratives. These parallels resurface throughout the whole book, making it fun to read. Identity is an important theme that interacts with themes of memory, an important factor in the construction of identity. But another form of memory arises here. This form of memory is more abstract and relates to the medium of books. S. reflects on memory of older forms of media, on how society has changed by the use of mobile phones and email. This is the undertone of the whole book which makes it reflective of today’s media culture.
Overall this was a great read, because of the interaction of the narratives and the format they appear in. The mystery itself is a big one, maybe too big to solve as a reader alone. You definitely need the additional online content and discussion forums. While reading the book can pose a challenge as well, the structure is so unique which makes up for any difficulty you might have getting through the novel. If you see “S.”, be sure to buy it as the book is a collector’s item which is hard to come by.
Also make sure to read other Book Reviews!