Literature: “S.” – Doug Durst/J.J.Abrams

“S”. is a book which was given to me recently as a surprise gift, and man, I was in for a surprise.

This book is definitely something different.

I was very confused the first time I opened it. I thought it was a used book at first, since it had a sticker which looked like it came from a library, at the same time, it was still untouched and the band around it was still intact. I had no clue what to expect.

The book seemed old and right away I saw notes written in different colors, all over the pages, little notes and documents inside as well, it felt like a treasure and also like a secret made physical. I was extremely excited.

First pages

Wikipedia is a bit better at explaining the content, so take it away beloved hive-mind:

S. is a 2013 novel written by Doug Dorst and conceived by J.J. Abrams. The novel is unusual in its format, presented as a story within a story. It is composed of the novel Ship of Theseus by a fictional author, and hand-written notes filling the book’s margins as a dialogue between two college students hoping to uncover the author’s mysterious identity and the novel’s secret plus loose supplementary materials tucked in between pages.


S. is presented in the form of a novel called Ship of Theseus written by an elusive author named V.M. Straka and published in 1949. Beyond the black slipcover with the S. title, no reference is made to Dorst or Abrams, and the only reference to the book’s true publishing information appears in fine print inside the back cover. The publication information is printed under a mock-up of a high school library’s check-out history of the book, spanning the years 1957 to 2000.

Removed from the slipcover, S. is designed to appear entirely as a copy of the standalone novel Ship of Theseus written by Straka that was borrowed from and never returned to the Laguna Verde High School Library. The pages are worn and yellowed with library stamps in the front and back cover and stains on the pages. The book’s spine is labeled with a library sticker marking the novel’s location number in the Dewey Decimal Classification.

The novel can be read alone in its entirety. Presented as Straka’s nineteenth and final novel before his mysterious death, Ship of Theseus tells the story of an amnesiac on a strange journey to discover himself. Straka’s enigmatic life and death are considered one of the literary world’s greatest mysteries and enshrouded by conspiracy theories and claims of espionage and assassination. His identity is the subject of much scholarly debate as evidenced by a foreword and footnotes from F.X. Caldeira, described as Straka’s chosen translator for many of his books, including Ship of Theseus, though even Caldeira never encountered Straka face-to-face.[2]

A second storyline takes place in the book’s margins. Eric is a disgraced graduate student who has spent his life studying Straka and his literary works. Jen is a college senior contemplating the next step of her life. The two begin to trade a copy of Ship of Theseus back and forth without meeting, using the book’s margins to carry out discussions about who Straka was using handwritten notes, arrows, and symbols.[3] The pair hopes to solve the mystery of Straka’s identity before Eric’s graduate professor, who allegedly stole his research and had him expelled, publishes his research on Straka. The hand-written marginalia are not always chronological. Different pen colors and handwriting styles denote the dialogues between the two and how they change on subsequent re-readings on the novel.

Concurrent with Jen and Eric’s timeline of reading and annotating the novel, there are postcards, handwritten letters, maps, and photocopied articles and book excerpts physically folded and inserted between the book’s bound pages as Jen and Eric provide evidence and clues to each other while exchanging the book.

So far I’ve read a couple of pages and I am very, very intrigued. It is a bit tiring to read because there is so much going on and you want to read/know everything at once, at least I do, so I may jump between the lines too much I guess.

I know that my dear friend poesielos is a bookworm, so I told her about this novel. Unsuprisingly, she already saved a copy for herself and that made me have an idea: This book is in itself so meta, we could correspond via letters and exchange ideas and feelings about the book like both Eric and Jen do! I love this kind of stuff, it’s silly, yet graspes – at least from my perspective – the whole idea at it’s core!

So, one little project for this blog will be, to give you dear reader an insight to our conversation. I will scan our letters and you can compare/read our own thoughts on the novel.

Well, you might as well grab a copy for yourself and write to us what you think about the novel! be part of it!

3 thoughts on “Literature: “S.” – Doug Durst/J.J.Abrams

    1. Yes, I actually have that copy as well! This will be one of the later projects, but thank you for bringing this to my attention! 😀 And as always, thank you for commenting, you bring even more life to it! 😀

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