The mystery of S

S by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst

Where to start?
First of all the packaging of the book is just divine. It has been a long times since I have been so excited about the contents of a book.

 When my copy arrived the novel was contained in a slip cover. What was cool was that I had to break the seal of the slip cover and let me tell you I agonised over that. I mean for any bookie it is the height of excitement, a teaser of what lies within. You are hooked and you have not even broken the seal.  I did think of ordering a second copy so I could have a pristine copy.
When the novel is removed from the slip cover you really do have to contain your excitement. As a lover of books it is sensory overload as you crack open the pages and just wet your pants. Let me take a step back and give you the descriptions.  First of you have a library book and inside people have been writing in the margins!!! Oh my, this is just wonderful. Then you find contained in the folds of the book, postcards, letters, news clippings and maps. It seriously is like finding a treasure trove. Your brain is doing leapfrogs of where do I start, what do I look at first, and then you breathe. You take several deep breaths, compose yourself and start at the beginning.  

WARNING - it is a good idea to not let anyone remove the items from the book. If anyone tries I would recommend making your displeasure clearly known. I am not sure if the placement of the items is absolutely strategic to the story but would you want to risk it? It is probably a good idea to page number the items as they can fall out.
Then the next problem to figure out is how to read the book. Look to be honest I am not going to subscribe to anyone how they should read this book. Do what is best for you.  For some people they might want to read Ship of Theseus (SOT), first, with the footnotes, then pencil, black, and blue annotations. From there you can read the green and yellow, then red and purple and finally the black and black annotations. Then all the bits and pieces stuck in the book. If you have the discipline to do that, then do so. I did not.

For me I read a slab of SOT, sometimes a paragraph or sometimes a page or two and then the annotations. To be honest it came down to how much information was on the page.  It did not take me long to realise there was a passing of time happening in the annotations. There are clues and puzzles in the story but I did not get around to solving them as I wanted to understand the story first. My choice, you may try and resolve the cyphers as you go along.  I do plan to go back to the book and make a better examination of those cyphers. A couple of times I knew it was a cypher and then the main characters revealed the answer, however I am sure there is more in there.
There are a couple of stories running through this book. There is the story of SOT, the discovery of who V M Straka is, the relationship between Straka and Filomela, the relationship between Eric and Jen, the turf war Jen and Eric find themselves in over the study of Straka works and the complications that occur in Jen and Eric’s lives. Then there is the message that Straka is leaving in SOT for his fellow conspirators. Sounds complicated? It isn’t but it is. You need to spend time with the book to immerse yourself in the stories. The stories are told well that and are easy to follow once you are in the book. The only problem I ever had was I would become engrossed in one part of the narrative, I would jump ahead a page or so and then realise I had to backtrack.  

The central story though is the relationship between Eric and Jen. You are able through their annotations in the margins watch as they learn to trust each other, reveal their secrets and fears and grow as characters.  What I really loved is that you do invest in the two of them as you try to figure out what is going in their lives. At times you wonder if Jen is completely paranoid and whether she is working to help or hinder Eric. There are so many layers and it so many if buts and whats, that keeps the intrigue level high. Both characters have wonderful complicated backstories and are beautifully flawed.
The story of SOT is quite extraordinary, the language is rich and dense and it was wonderful to be reaching for a dictionary. You follow the enigmatic ‘S’ who knows little of his past and is unsure of his future. His is a story of identity and in some ways that theme spills over into other aspects of the book with Jen and Eric. Throughout ‘S’s  journey you are treated to the most amazing landscape and characters. I really did enjoy how the story between editor and author was slowly revealed during the novel.

This is a book that you need to spend time with and you will be rewarded for that.   
I know that there are websites out there that examining the contents of the books and the clues. A jumping off point is I certainly will be following the rabbit down the hole with this book as there seems to be more to come.
For more information on the author check out Doug Dorst's website.