Abrams’s first foray into print filled with parallel story-lines, codes, and hidden truths.
Anyone familiar with J.J. Abrams’s work in television and film (Lost, Star Trek) has come to expect complex, interlocking narratives with unsolved riddles left behind. His latest project , a foray into the world of literature, does not disappoint. The novel S., conceived by J.J. Abrams and written by novelist Doug Dorst, is unabashedly demanding with not only the printed text, but also the creation of a fake author, readers, and mementos hidden with the pages of the text. If that wasn’t enough, most chapters use various codes to reveal even more mysteries for the reader.
The novel contained within the outer case appears to be an old library book, complete with a Dewey Decimal sticker and due dates stamped in the back. The book, titled The Ship of Theseus, is allegedly written by the reclusive author V. M. Straka, along with the assistance, or interference, of his translator. The story extends beyond the printed pages to conversations scribbled in the margins by a graduate student studying the mysterious V. M. Straka and a student working in the library who finds the copy.
As they struggle to uncover the truth about the book’s author and his real relationship with the translator they add more tokens to the pages of the book, including letters, photographs, and maps drawn on napkins. While S. may be an unusual experience for some readers, it can be closely linked to similar postmodern works which explore the limits of what constitutes a novel. The immersive experience of the text may feel familiar to readers of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves while the construction of an enigmatic and reclusive author is reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire.
Although there are some critics and readers who suggest reading the main text first and then returning to follow the margin notes, I disagree. The confusion and gaps in the readers knowledge as they progress with all of the timelines at once is one of the great merits of this novel and while it may seem a daunting task the work is rewarded as the story progresses to its natural conclusions for all of the characters. Not all of the answers are spelled out for the reader, many clues are left unanswered and not all of the threads tie up neatly.
Since S. was released several months ago the Internet has already developed multiple chatrooms and websites for readers to decode the remaining messages from the text and discuss theories. There are several official websites associated with the project as well, suggesting that the narrative may continue to develop off of the page. This unusual collaboration offers a challenge and a mystery for readers who not only crave interlocking complex narratives but also demands the active participation of the reader themselves.