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.
Back at the end of 2013, I picked up this gorgeous book and immediately started reading it. I remember being absolutely amazed by the artistry of S. and it was a book I immediately added to my list when I decided to reread one old favorite every month as a reading resolution for 2019. I was ready to go on the same ride and hoped that the magic wouldn’t be gone during this reread.
I knew that I was going to be amazed once again when I took my book from the shelves and a postcard almost fell from its pages. There was just no way I wasn’t going to love a book that looks (AND SMELLS!!!) like an old library book in which two people wrote down their thoughts over the course of a few months. It’s so difficult to explain the brilliance that went into this book-within-a-book and no description can ever do it any justice.
You may find it difficult to get into the flow of this book and that isn’t all that surprising. You start by reading the “original” book and you need to keep interrupting the story to jump to the thoughts of two readers who are alternately annotating it. It’s a bit disruptive and you need to get used to it, but hand on my heart, it’s absolutely worth it.
Let’s start with the “original” book in whose margins the two actual main characters wrote: Ship of Theseus. This is one weird story. In the beginning, I couldn’t really care as it was so difficult to follow, but once the ship came to play, it abruptly caught all my interest.
He is a man without a past sailing in a strange sea in a world where the stars have come loose in the firmament.
Onwards to the actual main characters of the story, a man who’s writing a thesis on the book and its infamous author, and a woman who accidentally finds the book and strikes up a conversation through it. The chronologicity of the notes isn’t difficult to comprehend and slowly sucks you into a narrative that will intrigue you to no end. It takes so freaking long to get to all the details but the authors did a magnificent job in keeping you glued to the page.
Most of all though, I adored the addition of the extra letters, photocopies, postcards, photos… that added a full 4-D experience of the story. It’s at times difficult to remember that you are reading a piece of art instead of an actual annotated book. I know I keep saying this, but it really is brilliantly constructed.
The way that the story is set up, it takes about twice as long to read as a “normal” book, but I was still barely able to put S. down. It’s so addictive and enticing that I got fully invested in the original book, its infamous author and the lives of the two annotators. My life stopped for a couple of days and this was the only thing I truly cared about.
Yes, the reread cemented my love for this book and I’m so glad I took the opportunity to pick it up again. There will never be a book as original as this one, and you really shouldn’t pass up on it.
Have you read this book? If not, does it sound interesting to you? If yes, what did you think? Let me know in the comments!