[This is the second installment of a series on S., specifically on the subject of Chapter One of Ship of Theseus. The photos in this post are of the handouts in Chapter One. You can read the first part of the series here. ]
The style and conception of S. by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst has been compared to that of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Nick Bantock’s books, such as Griffin & Sabine. While it is true that S. employs some of the styles and devices from these two author’s books, it is also very much is own unique creation. Both Danielewski and Bantock created their own books with the goal of creating an individual artwork that was different from any other, but was also particular to the story they wanted to tell.
The same can very much be said for S., which uses written text on top of the book being read, adding an additional layer of reading and story, as well as the many handouts and loose pieces of media that all add to the ambiance; the experience of the book. Abrams and Dorst did it this way not to imitate these other writers but because they wanted to tell a very specific story in a very specific way.
And the result is S., a book that is truly unique in the history of publishing.
What perhaps is the most astounding . . . actually there are many, so let’s edit that to one of the most astounding aspects of the book is not just the use of commentary between these two characters discussing the book they are reading, Ship of Theseus, but the different colors of ink that are used for the printing and even an imitation pencil font that looks very close to the real thing. It is both impressive in adding to the complexity and fascination of the story, but also in its execution as part of the impressive printing effort.
The pencil markings are in fact one of the characters’ earlier notes made when he was younger, as he has apparently been reading and been obsessed with this book since he was fifteen. As for the fonts of the characters, they are each distinctive and immediately recognizable: the male character writes in small printed block capital letters, while the female character writes in a nice, easy to read cursive. The colors of the texts will vary from page to page, chapter to chapter, and seems to serve little need other than it’s whatever color pen the characters have at the moment to use when they are writing the notes, which is exactly what the average person would do.
The creators also did a good job of creating a logical flow of the notes, so the reader can easily follow and see what the notes are in reference to in the text since, as I mentioned in the first post, the reader is essentially reading two stories at the same time. In some ways it feels like a enjoying brain exercise to read S., like doing a crossword puzzle or Sudoku, as the reader is having to follow the two separate story-lines that are related simultaneously which makes for some fun mental acrobatics.
But again, the creators do a good job of making the two stories very different so the reader doesn’t get confused. The main story with Ship of Theseus is written in an intense and at times overly-written way, almost a style of purple prose, that gives a strong voice to the story and makes it easily recognizable, to the point where at times it reminded me of a nineteenth century novel, and in particular Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, which I have a feeling the creators might have had somewhat in mind when writing S.
Within the story of Ship of Theseus, the central character refers to his name as “S” which the “readers” of the book who are the characters adding the margin notes assume to be V. M. Straka, the author of Ship of Theseus. But with this mysteriousness it is a journey of discovery for the main character, which helps to keep the reader hooked and involved as they follow along and learn about the character and the world.
And as for the two “readers” adding the notes in the margins on every page, while they have never met, there definitely seems to be a relationship developing between them and one might presume they will eventually end up together by the end of the reading of Ship of Theseus, but one never knows, which just adds another layer of plot and drama to S., continuing to make it an enthralling and addictive read.