Whatever the reception of this book ultimately was, it can't be denied that S is a masterpiece. A story about a story within a story about another story, with footnotes from another story, being written about by another story. It's meta, it's beautifully written, and it's compelling as hell. Even when I was completely submerged in the horror or suspense of the moment, there was always some part of me delighting in the very fact that this book exists.
Let me try to describe the structure of this (and fail miserably, of course. You'd really have to read it for yourself). Mysterious author Straka wrote a book called Ship of Theseus, among others. It's the story of an amnesiac man who realizes he's part of a great conspiracy he doesn't remember, but people seem to know his identity and what his mission is. He ends up on a ship full of gruesomely mutilated sailors and travels across the world in search of a woman named Sola. This book is filled with allusions to a real life conspiracy, a group called S, of which Straka (whose identity is unknown) was a member. He would publish his story via letters to F.M.X., the translator, whose footnotes tell another fascinating story about F.M.X.'s own relationship with the enigmatic Straka,
Enter modern day literary enthusiasts Eric and Jen. Jen picks up Eric's copy of Ship of Theseus in the library one day and sees all his notes. She writes back, and thus begins a back-and-forth correspondence with him in the margins of his book. There's no shortage of drama there, either, in Eric's clashes with unscrupulous Straka academics, the growing suspicion that a clandestine organization like S is not at all fictional and very much active, and Jen and Eric's burgeoning romance.
This is possibly the only time I've ever been delighted with the unabashed debasement of a library book. Jen and Eric's notes in the margins were ridiculously charming and funny, when they weren't being fascinating. Even their personalities would come out in their handwriting -- Jen's was a warm looping script while Eric wrote in sparse, blocky print. Having Eric confess he liked her was like a happy kick in the guts to me -- partly because he wrote the note rather early in the book (though in the middle of the story), but mostly because his personality was originally closed off, cynical, and rather sparse. It just shows how far they've changed each other.
My one complaint is that due to the many stories ducking and weaving alongside each other, it was sometimes difficult to keep the thread of the story together, especially with Jen and Eric's. The changing color of their ink pens helped, but I wish I could see their story play out chronologically. This means I probably have to read the whole thing all over again.