I started S nearly a year ago and just got around to finishing it. I have to say: it is one of the most intriguing novels I have ever personally read.
The plot of this whole project (I hesitate to call it merely a “book”) is this: think of leaving a treasured book on a library rack by accident one day, to pick it up the next only to find someone had written in it, admiring your notes from when you were 16. Not only this, but this particular book was written by a man with a mysterious past. He never revealed to the world who he really was. This is the premise of S.
There are two connected stories taking place: the book itself is called “the Ship of Thesus,” written by V.M. Straka. Straka’s past is veiled but there are clues to his identity from various people, including the translator of “Ship” who also writes footnotes throughout the book (that are also threaded with codes). The book reads like a normal book, but in the margins are pen marks from two different individuals talking back and forth between each other. One is disgraced graduate student Eric, who’s work was stolen by a professor and who claimed he was a fraud. He prints in block letters that are easily discernible. The other is Jen, an undergraduate student who is struggling admidst the pressures of school and life. She writes in a cursive scrawl that is sometimes hard to read. They write to each other about the solving the mystery of Straka, point out poetic lines and relate them to their lives, their parents, their backgrounds, meeting up, school, love, etc. all of this is made even more confusing because they write in different colors that represent different times. At first, Jen writes in a blue ink and Eric black. About half way, you start seeing gold (Jen) and green (Eric). Towards the end you see red (Eric) and purple (Jen). Last, you see black and black. Finally, this is not a conventional book in one other way: throughout their time corresponding together, they communicate also by including various items into the book. There are newspaper clippings, a strange device (that I
haven’t figured out yet) that seems to be some kind of de-coder, postcards (Eric goes to Brazil at one point), pictures, longer notes about their lives, etc. These are all inserted and made reference to in the margins.
Ship of Thesus is essentially about a man who wakes up and cannot remember his past at all. He is simply known as “S.” He meets up with various people throughout his travels, figuring out who he is and more importantly, trying to reconnect with a woman he see’s and feels pulled towards. Her name is “Sola.” He finds himself in the middle of a chase after a bomb explodes, only to jump into the sea and onto a strange ship. The ship’s crew has an odd air to them, made worse by the fact that they all have their mouths sewed shut. They communicate by a whistle. The ship’s captain, Maelstrom, is the only one who talks (not very well I might add). There is much more about the plot that I do not want to reveal, but suffice it to say S becomes involved in an organization that has vast implications for Jen
and Eric as their families and lives become endangered. Somehow it is all connected in an incredible
interplay that reminds me of the complexity of an orchestral masterpiece.
In short, this book is crazy. There a websites out there dedicated to carrying on the questions of the book, like this one that also features a “how to read guide.” This is a book that will probably leave you more questions than answers how ever. JJ Abrams urged the readers to “dig deep.” What is most confusing is trying to figure out wha to read. Do you read the book first and then go back and read the drama between Eric and Jen? Or do you try to do it all at once? I tried the latter because I just don’t have the time to read all of that twice. Further, you REALLY have to dig in this book. It ends with as much mystery as it began with. As you may see from the linked website, there are a lot of theories on what the resolution is. This can be a little frustrating but for our detectives out there, this might be a welcomed challenge. One more note about the book: the characters that surround Straka are often times of a heritage that is not American. This sometimes is confusing because you have all these strange words and no recollection of who is who. I must pay more attention the second read!
Please pick this book up. It is truly ingenious. Can you go wrong with JJ Abrams? (I guess we will see next December!)