Buy this book at
To Past Reviews Index
Back to Last Page


by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Ship of Theseus

by V. M. Straka

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Canongate Books Ltd

Published : 2013

Copyright : Gun Point Road LLC 2013

ISBN-10 : HB 0-85786-477-7
ISBN-13 : HB 978-0-85786-477-2

Publisher's Write-Up

One book. Two readers. A world of mystery, menace and desire.

A young woman picks up a book left behind by a stranger. Inside it are his margin notes, which reveal a reader entranced by the story and by its mysterious author. She responds with notes of her own, leaving the book for the stranger, and so begins an unlikely conversation that plunges them both into the unknown.

The Book: Ship of Theseus, the final novel by a prolific but enigmatic writer named V. M. Straka, in which a man with no past is shanghaied onto a strange ship with a monstrous crew and launched on a disorienting and perilous journey.

The Writer: Straka, the incendiary and secretive subject of one of the world's greatest mysteries, a revolutionary about whom the world knows nothing apart from the words he wrote and the rumours that swirl around him.

The Readers: Jennifer and Eric, a college senior and a disgraced grad student, both facing crucial decisions about who they are, who they might become, and how much they're willing to trust another person with their passions, hurts and fears.

S., conceived by filmmaker J.J. Abrams and written by award-winning novelist Doug Dorst, is the chronicle of two readers finding each other in the margins of a book and enmeshing themselves in a deadly struggle between forces they don't understand. It is also Abrams and Dorst's love letter to the written word.

About the Authors:
Emmy Award-winning filmmaker J.J. Abrams has produced, directed, or written films and television shows including Fringe, Lost, Alias, Felicity, Star Trek, Cloverfield, Super 8, Mission: Impossible, and more.

Doug Dorst teaches writing at Texas State University-San Marcos. He is author of the PEN/Hemingway-nominated novel Alive in Necropolis and the collection The Surf Guru. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, Ploughshares, Epoch, and elsewhere. Dorst is also a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

'Filled with secrets and stories that are endlessly beguiling and inviting.'


'Genuinely awe-inspiring.'


'What we have is a new kind of book which is, in essence, a very old kind of book. As they say in Abrams' Hollywood, it's so crazy it just might work.'

Financial Times
Column Ends


Reader Reviews

Why not Submit a Review your own Review for this book?

Review by Nigel (050114) Rating (9/10)

Review by Nigel
Rating 9/10
When you pick up S. the first problem you have is how to read the thing! I believe the title page gives you the clue. Having read the initial correspondence between Jen and the stranger, I followed her route of discovery and read the V. M. Straka Ship of Theseus novel first ignoring all the notations. Early in their conversation, before any of their notes back and forth, Jen finishes the novel in one sitting "Thanks! Read the rest in one sitting - wow." The stranger then teases Jen implying she has not seen the real message in the book whereby Jen goes back doing more of an analysis and leaves the first run of commentary starting their dialogue. The only notes in the book when Jen reads it first are the translator’s footnotes and the stranger’s pencil notes.

Firstly, the novel. Ship of Theseus. The story is a strange one and I’m not even sure what genre you would put it in... fiction certainly but adventure/horror/mystery/fantasy/supernatural... it has all these elements but none are defining.

We first meet S., the title character, in a city by the sea. He is very wet, has no memory of how he got there or who he is. He wanders aimlessly for a time in a surreal atmosphere before entering a tavern. Here he meets a woman reading a book; she seems familiar but professes she does not know S. It is a trap and S. is shanghaied, next waking on a ship at sea. The ship, the woman and the book reoccur throughout the novel as S. tries to escape but always returns. Sounds strange as I say but to go any deeper here would spoil the experience of reading.

While I enjoyed the novel I struggled to devise the meaning, if any, behind the story. It seemed to me to be about many things not least unrequited love and loss as well as the greed of humanity and its propensity for evil to obtain what it desires. If the story was a metaphor for something deeper I’m afraid I missed it although the books and the Island struck a chord. Life perhaps? It was certainly intriguing with a seemingly unending war between good and evil where a balance is maintained by bloody action on both sides, with S. becoming a major player towards the end... certainly worth reading.

Secondly, we have the book’s footnotes and the margin notes which are an entire story in their own right. As the original manuscript for Ship of Theseus was not in English the book has been translated by one F. X Caldeira. Many readers (in the fictional world of the book) believe the translator’s forward and footnotes are actually messages in code to the author Straka. The first margin notes in the book are Eric’s pencil ones which are then followed by a dialogue between Jen and Eric as they try to identify Straka and unravel Caldeira’s messages. As they delve deeper a sense of threat develops as unseen enemies try to prevent Jen and Eric revealing the truth. Is it paranoia? Is the threat real? Are they about to reveal a clandestine organisation that kills without compunction? Is it simply academic rivalry? The paranoia, real or imagined, drips from the page as you read, becoming more and more involved in Jen and Eric’s quest to learn the truth. Again I’ll say no more as to do so would spoil the fun.

The margin notes are handwritten in two distinct styles; Jen’s are lowercase cursive script while Eric’s are all in uppercase block letters. Several colours are used to indicate the different iterations as the book passes back and forth between Jen and Eric.

I don’t believe you need to try and read them in the order they were written, i.e. follow a colour, as some have suggested. Not only would this be an almost impossible task it seemed to me each full set of notes on a particular page moved the narrative of Jen and Eric along correctly in time. In truth it would probably spoil it trying to read a single set of colours first as near the end you would undoubtedly read a future note too early. Then again, I could have it completely wrong, that is the beauty of the whole book.

And finally, the book’s production. It is simply astounding. Place this in the hands of any book lover and their heart will melt. It arrives sealed in a functional slipcase to ensure the contents remain intact. You open the cellophane and are presented with a perforated seal embossed with an S.. You break this with a letter opener and slide out Ship of Theseus which is a faithful reproduction of an old 1949 library book (the only giveaway is the smallest copyright panel below the library in/out stamps at the back of the book, and even this is disguised to look like the Library’s lending rules). In the book are numerous pieces of ephemera, old letters, postcards, articles, etc., that all expand the story and relate to Jen and Eric’s notes as they try to solve the mystery of Straka and learn more about one another.

S. is a rare thing; individually each element is very good in its own right, however, the sum of the parts is breathtaking and every book lover should own a copy, read it and enjoy the experience.

  • The story
  • The foot notes
  • The margin notes
  • The ephemera
  • The codes
  • The quality of product

If you had the time you could spend hours of enjoyment unravelling more and more... and at the end there is one mystery left unanswered... how did we, the reader, get the book?
Nigel (5th January 2014)

Back to Top of Page
Column Ends