Book review - S by Doug Dorst and J.J Abrams

Friday, 3 June 2016

This review has been a long time coming, and now that I'm sitting down to write it I've realised how difficult it's going to be to try and explain this book.

Chris bought me S for my birthday last year, and wrote a little note explaining what it is. I have since, annoyingly, misplaced that note as it summed it up quite well.

S is a hardback book with a box that keeps it all together:

What is inside is a book called Ship of Theseus, written by V.M Straka:

It looks like a library book. Because it is supposed to be. S has, I'd say, three stories (at least). One being the tale of a man who awakens on a mysterious ship having forgotten who he is - Ship of Theseus.

Around the margins of the book, though, you find another story: the story of two readers, Eric and Jen. Eric is the original owner of the book. He leaves it lying around and Jen picks it up. Tentatively, the two start communicating via notes scribbled round the edges (although they don't know each other in real life) - and you start to learn more about them and their growing bond via their notes to each other.

The third story is the story behind the mysterious writer of the book, Ship of Theseus. V.M Straka is a mystery. He has written many classic books, but nobody knows for sure who he was in real life. Jen and Eric join the many literary professors and theorists before them, trying to discover for themselves who Straka really was by clues left in the footnotes. This journey becomes quite tense as Jen and Eric start to uncover long-kept secrets.

That is basically the book in the most simple way I can think to explain it.


There are so many layers to it.

Ship of Theseus is beautifully written: I really enjoyed it on its own, even without the extra stuff going on around the edges. Meanwhile, Jen and Eric's notes follow different time periods, and they use different coloured pens to show the different times they are writing in it. For example, Eric's writing in grey are the earliest notes that he made in the book, pre-Jen. It means that, basically, the order that you come across the notes aren't necessarily tied to the timeline that Jen and Eric are writing them in - so there's a bit of back-and-forth-ing to do.

There are also inserts. Like these:

Newsletters and photographs and postcards and letters and maps drawn on actual napkins: all of them you can pull out and look at. Part of the reason why it took me so long to actually finish reading this book was because I kept stopping to admire all the bits and pieces inside.

I have to admit, I finished S feeling quite perplexed. I should mention at this point that it is written by Doug Dorst, and the concept is by J.J Abrams, which should give you an idea of how this book is. The man loves a mystery. S doesn't wrap things up neatly for you. It leaves you wondering, even to the point of being a bit maddening. 

Obviously I turned to the internet, and it turns out there are loads of great, informative, brilliant blogs dedicated to the book, with theories and speculation and even walkthroughs for reading the book (which sounds odd but it is a weird reading experience - I couldn't decide whether to just read the 'main' story straight through and then go back and read the notes or to read them both at the same time). And it doesn't end there - there are even extra bits of canon that you can find online - but it's probably best to explore those after you've finished reading it. There are also puzzles, some of which Jen and Eric work out for you, others that you have to figure out yourself.

J.J Abrams and Doug Dorst describe this book as 'a love letter to the written word', which I think it is. It is not in any way a conventional book. It's more like an experience. If you want to read it, expect to be asking questions for a long time afterwards. In fact, even though I've finished it, I'm pretty sure I'm nowhere near being done with it ...

If you are thinking of buying S, I'd recommend reading this blog post, A Beginner's Guide to Reading "S". In fact everything on this blog is great.

It is a gorgeous and well-produced piece of work. I'd highly recommend it if you're looking to get absorbed in a different story telling experience.

Linking up with:

Pick N Mix Fridays

Diary of an imperfect mum

Talk of the Town


  1. Wow what an interesting post and read! I love the fact there was a story inside the story and naughty person from pilfering it from the school!
    Thanks for linking to #ablogginggoodtime

    1. It's so good! Going to start re-reading it soon. Thanks for reading :) x

  2. WOW! That's what you call a unique reading experience. I'm not so sure I would have the patience Megan but I love your review and the intrigue. x

    Thanks for linking #TalkoftheTown

    1. Hehe, it definitely requires work ;) I had a book break for a couple of days after I finished it to let my brain recover! x

    2. Not surprised! How interesting though x

  3. Wow this looks really interesting, I've not heard of it before but I reckon I've just found a present my dad would love so thank you. Thanks for linking to #PicknMix

    1. Ooh great! Glad to have helped! I hadn't heard of it either before I got it for my birthday. Hope your Dad enjoys it x


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