avevale_intelligencer: (bitmoji)
[personal profile] avevale_intelligencer
S., you may remember, is the creation of JJ Abrams, of whom it has been said, and writer Doug Dorst. It consists of a novel, Ship of Theseus by the fictitious V M Straka, beautifully packaged as a nearly seventy-year-old library book, extensively annotated by two fictitious readers and lavishly adorned with miscellaneous documents stuck between the pages.

This is a book that could only ever be a book. There is no conceivable way to translate the whole of it into any other medium. The story...well, there are at least three stories, possibly four; the story being told in the novel, which itself goes disturbingly nonlinear at times, the story of the writer and his translator and what happened to them while the book was being written and thereafter, and the story of the two aforementioned readers, told via differently coloured annotations in the course of at least four separate passes through the book and not necessarily sequentially. The possible fourth story consists of what may or may not be going on in the world around the readers as they pursue their relationship with each other, with the book, with the author. This is a book that could never be filmed, dramatised, even read aloud. Even as an ebook (which has been done) it's missing a whole dimension of experience.

So, it's clever. What else? Well, I find the novel, Ship of Theseus, not the sort of thing I would go out of my way to read, but very compelling nonetheless. The story of Straka, like the unseen fourth story, I have only imperfectly grasped; hence the reread. The story of Jen and Eric, the readers, is very well done indeed. It never seems implausible that they are conducting this conversation entirely by writing in the pages of a printed book and then leaving it on a shelf for each other to find. They are believable, well-drawn, flawed and vulnerable characters and I grew to like them.

The only problem I find with S.--and it may not be a bug, but a feature--is that it's all but impossible to pick a storyline and stay with it. The novel, the prior and subsequent passes of Jen and Eric, the maddening codes and ciphers contained in the translator's footnotes, all conspire to distract the attention, and I end up flipping back and forth through the pages, unable to settle on a story and stick with it, unwilling simply to put the book down and try something less demanding. It's worth the effort, though. The last words in the book (apart from the endpapers) mean nothing unless you've read the whole thing first...and when you have, they're funny, and moving, and hopeful.

I will treasure my copy of this book as long as I live. Whatever you think of Abrams' efforts in other areas, this he got right. Unless you're uncontrollably enraged by people who write in books, you might like to give it a try.
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