S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, for the R.I.P. XV, and for Great Reading Pleasure

S. is gorgeous, a masterpiece of verisimilitude. . . . The book’s spiritual cousin is A.S. Byatt’s Possession. . . . The brilliance of S. is less in its showy exterior than the intimate and ingeniously visual way it shows how others’ words become pathways to our lives and relationships.” —Washington Post

A drenched man in a dark overcoat wanders the streets, unable to remember who he is or where he came from. He enters a tavern, speaks with a woman who has an olive complexion, and is suddenly grabbed from behind, thrown over a strong man’s shoulder, and taken aboard a ship.

Such horrors lurk there, from holes punctured around the men’s mouths so that they can be sewn together with thread to “hearing muted expressions of pain from all about the ship.” (p. 57)

Who is this man? He learns his name is S., while the reader wonders if this could be the author V. M. Straka, who wrote The Ship of Theseus, as well as other “novels that toppled governments, shamed ruthless industrialists, and foresaw the horrifying sweep of totalitarianism that has been a particular plague in these last few decades.” (p. v)

The Ship of Theseus, the novel within this novel, was written in 1949, and it is this text that I read first. Then, I went back to the beginning to read all the annotations that had been handwritten in its margins. Annotations, and dialogue, from two students: Eric, who is studying Straka, and Jen who found Eric’s book containing all his notes.

“Did you write in the book?” my husband asked when he saw me reading it.

“No,” I told him, “it’s part of the presentation.”

“That would drive me crazy!” he exclaimed, and for some people that would perhaps be true. But, I am enchanted by the parallel stories, and the ephemera tucked within its pages, all interwoven to reveal mysteries beyond my imagination.

S. is not a book for those who prefer technology, or e-readers; it is a book lover’s dream.

9 thoughts on “S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst, for the R.I.P. XV, and for Great Reading Pleasure”

  1. I love stories that are told in ‘interesting’ ways. For me, that means ones with extra content like this or told through letters or emails or texts or pictures or scrapbooks. I marvel at authors that do this and make it work. Thanks for telling about this one! No, not one for e-reading, but that’s OK. 🙂


  2. Oh heavens…that book looks so inviting! You manage to tempt and tease me more than any bookstore could with the glimpses and snippets into your reading life. I could sit around a fireplace and talk to you for hours about such a book! Have an extremely lovely week!


  3. I have twice been defeated by ‘S’. I own a copy of the book. Will adopt your technique and maybe this time I will manage to finish (and understand) the book. I also love the ephemera. And yes, it is a weird book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t say that I understood it completely. But, it made more sense to me to read the text first, then the marginalia, then the inserts. It was wonderfully atmospheric, and I think I would do well to read it again. Good luck!


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