So, one of many reasons for the blog-break has been me reading and one of the things I’ve read was ‘S’ by Doug Dorst and JJ Abrams. S isn’t so much a book as an experience.
You have a physical book – a novel – and both on and in its pages are two more stories told in the form of ciphers, inserted items like postcards and two readers having a conversation by leaving notes in the margins. This is a very cool idea.
I’ll admit I was pretty suspicious that the whole thing would just end up being an irritating puzzle that led nowhere, but I have to say it was both engaging to read and fairly satisfying for me.
The novel itself is the story of a man called ‘S’ who doesn’t know who he is or why the things happening to him are happening. The story in the footnotes, the ciphers and parts of the conversation in the margins is about what ‘S’ represents and the disputed identity of the author of the novel. The other story in the margins is of two university students getting to know each other, and what has shaped them and maybe also their interest in the mystery of ‘S’.
Given the number of codes/ciphers in play I imagine there’s a whole online experience to be had outside the book, but to be honest I’m not that bitten by the code bug to look.
This is, if nothing else, a beautiful artifact. A hard cover book in a slip-case, made to look time-stained and as though different coloured pens were used at different times as the two readers made multiple passes through the book. The postcards, ‘photocopies’ and other inserts are just as lush. I guess that’s what having a name like JJ Abrams can achieve in publishing!
I’m sure S won’t be everyone’s cup-o-tea, but I really enjoyed the experience, particularly the contrast of the novel’s strange narrative with the disjointed story telling of the margin notes. Just don’t try to read it on public transport – those pesky inserts fall out all the time!