A Book Within A Book Within A Book: Ship of Theseus

Sometimes I get to look after Molly’s Little Bookshop for a day, and it’s always a treat. But being surrounded by thousands of tempting second-hand books for a whole six hours means that I never go home empty-handed and my wages are always a little depleted!

My favourite find by miles is an extraordinary one. I’ve categorised it as an ‘Odd Book’, but it’s the best kind of odd. It’s a work of art, and I’d never seen anything like it before.

‘The Ship of Theseus’, or ‘S’ as the wider project is known, is the creation of filmmaker, J.J Abrams and writer, Doug Dorst, and it’s a book to get excited about. When I opened it, I got the same feeling as when I used to browse my favourite antique/junk shop as a teenager, picking up a box brownie for five quid, an old suitcase, even a World War 2 gas mask. Just as those things were, this book is now a treasured possession, even though I feel I’ve barely scraped its surface yet.

The Core Story & The Paradox

The core book – ‘The Ship of Theseus’ – is a whole story in itself – and its title is based on a paradox. Theseus of Ancient Greece sailed his old ship from adventure to adventure, replacing planks as they perished and warped, one at a time, until there was nothing remaining of the original ship. Once every element of the original stucture of the ship was replaced, was it still the same ship?

This story features the journey of an amnesiac called only ‘S’, who is kidnapped and becomes embroiled in a conflict between a tyrannical industrialist and his oppressed workers.

The Author Mystery

The second story concerns the mysterious author, V.M Straka, who may have based the book allegorically on his own experiences. The editor, F.X Caldeira, who has published the volume after Straka’s supposed assassination, provides an introduction and footnotes which appear to be coded attempts to contact the author.

The Library Book & Treasures

The core book is presented as a library book, and this is alternately borrowed by two strangers – Eric and Jen – who become intertwined as they try to solve the questions surrounding the author. The two discuss their discoveries in the margins and share material treasures which are slotted into the book. A postcard, a napkin with notes on, an obituary clipped from a newspaper… and all these are included in this volume as loose objects. You feel as if you are the first person to find them there.

The second story about the author, and the third story in the margins, plus the wealth of extra material that embellish it, are like the new ship planks, carefully constructed to create something new and clever over the top of ‘The Ship of Theseus’. But the first story remains as the bones of the book; a tale full of mysteries that gave birth to two more stories.

ODD BOOKS SIMILAR TO ‘THE SHIP OF THESEUS’

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel by Zachary Thomas Dodson

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

4 thoughts on “A Book Within A Book Within A Book: Ship of Theseus

    1. Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like it. I need to dedicate a lot of time to the book to do it justice, and it’s about fourth on my list at the moment. Having said that, I’ve just ordered House of Leaves from the Book Depository – Doesn’t hurt to have an excess of reading material in case of another lockdown! 😉

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      1. I like that you have back up Jo, House of Leaves is another mind stretcher, it’s great to set ourselves these challenges or at least know they are there. There’s so much inspiration out there, so thank you for sharing these. I hope you stay safe and well and have beautiful people around you.

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