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Travels in the Scriptorium

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A man pieces together clues to his past--and the identity of his captors--in this fantastic, labyrinthine novel An old man awakens, disoriented, in an unfamiliar chamber. With no memory of who he is or how he has arrived there, he pores over the relics on the desk, examining the circumstances of his confinement and searching his own hazy mind for clues. Dete A man pieces together clues to his past--and the identity of his captors--in this fantastic, labyrinthine novel An old man awakens, disoriented, in an unfamiliar chamber. With no memory of who he is or how he has arrived there, he pores over the relics on the desk, examining the circumstances of his confinement and searching his own hazy mind for clues. Determining that he is locked in, the man--identified only as Mr. Blank--begins reading a manuscript he finds on the desk, the story of another prisoner, set in an alternate world the man doesn't recognize. Nevertheless, the pages seem to have been left for him, along with a haunting set of photographs. As the day passes, various characters call on the man in his cell--vaguely familiar people, some who seem to resent him for crimes he can't remember--and each brings frustrating hints of his identity and his past. All the while an overhead camera clicks and clicks, recording his movements, and a microphone records every sound in the room. Someone is watching. Both chilling and poignant, Travels in the Scriptorium is vintage Auster: mysterious texts, fluid identities, a hidden past, and, somewhere, an obscure tormentor. And yet, as we discover during one day in the life of Mr. Blank, his world is not so different from our own.


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A man pieces together clues to his past--and the identity of his captors--in this fantastic, labyrinthine novel An old man awakens, disoriented, in an unfamiliar chamber. With no memory of who he is or how he has arrived there, he pores over the relics on the desk, examining the circumstances of his confinement and searching his own hazy mind for clues. Dete A man pieces together clues to his past--and the identity of his captors--in this fantastic, labyrinthine novel An old man awakens, disoriented, in an unfamiliar chamber. With no memory of who he is or how he has arrived there, he pores over the relics on the desk, examining the circumstances of his confinement and searching his own hazy mind for clues. Determining that he is locked in, the man--identified only as Mr. Blank--begins reading a manuscript he finds on the desk, the story of another prisoner, set in an alternate world the man doesn't recognize. Nevertheless, the pages seem to have been left for him, along with a haunting set of photographs. As the day passes, various characters call on the man in his cell--vaguely familiar people, some who seem to resent him for crimes he can't remember--and each brings frustrating hints of his identity and his past. All the while an overhead camera clicks and clicks, recording his movements, and a microphone records every sound in the room. Someone is watching. Both chilling and poignant, Travels in the Scriptorium is vintage Auster: mysterious texts, fluid identities, a hidden past, and, somewhere, an obscure tormentor. And yet, as we discover during one day in the life of Mr. Blank, his world is not so different from our own.

30 review for Travels in the Scriptorium

  1. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Picking The Language Lock From Kafka to Blanchot to Auster: it sounds a bit like an old American baseball triple play. However unlikely it seems, it is in fact a direct literary lineage. What’s passed along isn’t a baseball; it’s an attitude toward language, an attitude inspired by, of all things, the Kabbalah. Kabbalah is a Jewish meditative technique (an inadequate description but so is method, or philosophy, or experience), the purpose of which is not to understand what language means, but to Picking The Language Lock From Kafka to Blanchot to Auster: it sounds a bit like an old American baseball triple play. However unlikely it seems, it is in fact a direct literary lineage. What’s passed along isn’t a baseball; it’s an attitude toward language, an attitude inspired by, of all things, the Kabbalah. Kabbalah is a Jewish meditative technique (an inadequate description but so is method, or philosophy, or experience), the purpose of which is not to understand what language means, but to reveal what it conceals behind its mask of innocent neutrality. Travels in the Scriptorium is one of Auster’s more explicit Kabbalistic pieces, and therefore probably can’t be fully grasped without understanding its literary ancestry. Paul Auster has translated at least two of the French Maurice Blanchot’s books on the philosophy of language, and incorporates much of that philosophy in his fiction. Blanchot in turn was a serious scholar of Franz Kafka who inspired Blanchot’s thought through his distinctive prose of alienation, apparently alienation of the individual from repressive social regimes. But Kafka’s primary focus wasn’t political, it was linguistic. The overtly political insinuations of his stories are allegorical. That is to say their language means something other than what it says. Travels in the Scroptorium is obviously Kafka-esque and obviously allegorical. The protagonist Mr. Blank inhabits a room without explanation, to him or to the reader. He has no memory of his arrival there, or of his previous life. The room could be a bedroom, a hospital ward, or a prison cell. Mr Blank doesn’t know whether he is a guest, a patient or a prisoner. Meaning is in abeyance, thus capturing the reader’s attention with an unstated macguffin. So far, so Kafka. But very quickly it is evident that there is more to the story. In particular there are labels in block capitals placed on the objects in the room: TABLE, PEN, SHADE, WALL, etc. As descriptive designations, these labels are superfluous. Mr. Blank obviously knows what these objects are; he hasn’t lost his ability for language along with his memory. They are clearly not descriptions, or reminders. The labels are commands. The words they contain are imposed on Mr. Blank even if he is unaware of the situation. The labels assert an equivalence between the object on which they are placed and the word they contain. This is a rather Blanchotian twist. It makes explicit the real subject of the story: the power of language. (For more on Blanchot and Kabbalah see: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...). On the desk is a set of typescripts which Mr. Blank fears might reveal unpleasant things but to which he is irresistibly drawn. The typescripts don’t have a label. Or said another way: they constitute one complex, narrative label. Mr. Blank reads them with incomprehension. Who are they written by? Are they truthful? Why are they here for him to read? They constitute a command like the labels. But Blank has no idea how to respond. Could this be precisely the right response to the command of the typescript? I think so; and I think that this is a key contribution of Auster to the tradition in which he has chosen to participate. The dominance of language is inescapable even when the tactics of the ‘language-game’ are clear. Blank tries to reassure himself with logical reason: “It's only words, he tells himself, and since when have words had the power to frighten a man half to death? It won't do,” but they are obviously not ‘merely’ words. They have an attractive power which draws him into themselves, into the story they form. And they generate a range of emotions, the most important of which is the compulsion he feels to comprehend what’s ‘behind’ them: “while he has grasped every word of the text so far, he has no idea what to make of it.” Unlike the other experiences he has in the room - the feel of his sock-clad feet on the polished floor; the sexual ministrations of his mysterious visitor, Anna; the touch of a wash cloth on his neck - the experience of language is problematic. There is literally no getting behind the labels. After a false start to see what’s outside the room, Blank gets the shade (with its label) to roll up, only to find impenetrably toughened glass of the window further protected by steel shutters, which are themselves held in place by large nails which he has no means to extract. “Imagine Mr. Blank's disappointment when he peers through the window and sees that the shutters have been closed, blocking any possibility of looking out to discover where he is.” But in a manner analogous to his attitude toward the typescript text, Blank’s desire to understand his context is also ambivalent. He could try the door since he doesn’t know whether it locks from inside or out, “But Mr. Blank does not move from his spot by the window, for the simple reason that he is afraid, so afraid of what he might learn from the door that he cannot bring himself to risk a confrontation with the truth.” The danger is that there is nothing there at all, at least nothing which can be discovered with a label already attached. For me, this is a perfect example of Auster’s imaginative brilliance. And it’s also the opening by which Kabbalah enters his story. The first ‘principle’ (another inadequate term) of Kabbalah is that everything is a sign. It doesn’t fight language, it succumbs entirely to it. Auster alludes to this by the visual and audio recording of everything that occurs in the room: “The least groan or sniffle, the least cough or fleeting flatulence that emerges from his body is therefore an integral part of our account as well.” In Kabbalah every jot and tittle of the text is of tremendous import. My sense is that Auster’s inclusion of Blank’s grunts and mumbles and the unintelligible random noises of the room is an intentional self-referential parody of Kabbalah, a very appropriate Kabbalistic tactic which frequently exposes itself to its own critique. Kabbalah then destroys the conventional meaning of the signs. As he reads the typescript, Blank is informed that the narrative will be used against the writer who has prepared it by those who are persecuting him. The writer implies that although he is being as factual as he can be in his report, what he has written is essentially a lie which will convict him. The text says, “Thank the Colonel for me, and tell him I understand what he's doing. He's giving me a chance to lie about what happened in order to save my neck. That's very sporting of him. Please tell him that I appreciate the gesture... By allowing me to put the story in writing, he is gathering evidence, irrefutable evidence that will justify any action he decides to take against me.” In other words even the most factual account he can give is evidence of his guilt. Truth itself is falsehood; the connections between words and things is broken. But Kabbalah is not merely destructive. It seeks to re-construct reality by re-arranging the relationships among the signs of language, to give these signs not new designations connecting them to things but to give them new relationships with each other, thus re-framing their emotional import as well as demonstrating their arbitrary exercise of power. At one point Blank tries to adjust the labels as “a symbolic undertaking to restore harmony to a broken universe.” This is one of many examples of Auster’s explicit use of the terminology of Kabbalah - repairing the broken universe. What does Blank do to escape the power of words? Remarkably, he writes. He throws himself back into the arms of the thing which is constraining him, namely language. He constructs a story. Like the writer of the typescript, Blank can only tell another story regardless of the consequences: “The only thing I can do is tell the story.” The unique aspect of this story is that it cannot be a command, except perhaps to oneself. It is therefore not something definitive or eternal or verifiable. The story is a re-construction out of the material at hand which will change as the material allows, including the new material of his story itself. This is the dangerous truth, the ghost in the machine, the bedrock of thought: that there is no bedrock. Many find this not just dangerous but sacrilegious, an affront to both the human mind and whatever they consider to be divine intelligence. Travels in the Scriptorium is wonderfully dangerous and sacrilegious, just like Kabbalah.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Travels in the Scriptorium, Paul Auster Travels in the Scriptorium is a novel by Paul Auster first published in 2007. An old man is disoriented within an unknown chamber and has no memory about who he is or how he has arrived there. He tries to understand something from the relics on the desk, examining the circumstances of his confinement and searching for reasons and a method to exit. Determining that he is locked in, the man — identified only as Mr. Blank — begins reading a manuscript he finds Travels in the Scriptorium, Paul Auster Travels in the Scriptorium is a novel by Paul Auster first published in 2007. An old man is disoriented within an unknown chamber and has no memory about who he is or how he has arrived there. He tries to understand something from the relics on the desk, examining the circumstances of his confinement and searching for reasons and a method to exit. Determining that he is locked in, the man — identified only as Mr. Blank — begins reading a manuscript he finds on the desk, the story of another prisoner, set in an alternate world the man doesn't recognize. Nevertheless, the pages seem to have been left for him, along with a haunting set of photographs. As the day passes, various characters call on the man in his cell — vaguely familiar people, some who seem to resent him for crimes he can't remember — and each brings frustrating hints of his identity and his past. All the while an overhead camera clicks and clicks, recording his movements, and a microphone records every sound in the room. Someone is watching. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و سوم ماه جولای سال 2009 میلادی عنوان: سفر در اتاق تحریر؛ نویسنده: پل آستر؛ مترجم: مهسا ملک مرزبان؛ تهران، افق، 1387، در 162 ص؛ شابک: 9789643694883؛ چاپ دوم 1389؛ چاپ سوم 1392؛ چاپ چهارم 1396؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان امریکایی - سده 20 م عنوان: راه رفتن در اتاق نسخه برداری؛ نویسنده: پل آستر؛ مترجم: مهدی غبرائی؛ تهران، ثالث، 1387، در 136 ص؛ شابک: 9789643805173؛ چاپ دوم با عنوان: سفر در اتاق نسخه برداری؛ تهران، ثالث، 1394؛ در 138 ص؛ شابک: 9789643806354؛ عنوان: سفر در اتاق کتابت؛ نویسنده: پل آستر؛ مترجم: احسان نوروزی؛ تهران، چشمه، 1387؛ در 135 ص؛ شابک: 9789643624125؛ چاپ دوم 1389، چاپ سوم 1396؛ پیرمرد روی لبه ی تخت مینشیند. ذهنش درگیر مسائل دیگری است: این جا چه میکند؟ در اتاق، با برچسبی روی میز نوشته شده: میز؛ روی لامپ: لامپ، او کیست؟ اینجا چه میکند؟ پیرمرد پاسخ پرسشها را نمیداند، پیرمرد هیچ به یاد نمیآورد... «استر» کنجکاوی هر خوانشگری را برمیانگیزند. ایشان خوانشگر را از بلندای دنیای جادویی واژه ها، بر روی زمینِ سخت مینشانند و سپس دوباره به پرواز درمیآورند. ا. شربیانی

  3. 5 out of 5

    Shovelmonkey1

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. It is official. Paul Auster is the master mind messer. This book is an MC Escher drawing in literary form. *Spoiler alert* Mr Blank is in a room. He can't remember who he is, anything about his past or where he came from. All he knows is what people tell him about himself and without knowing it he is under 24 hour scrutiny by a higher power, someone with an overall view of the situation. Characters enter the room, perform basic tasks and leave and almost the instant that they are gone Mr Blank fo It is official. Paul Auster is the master mind messer. This book is an MC Escher drawing in literary form. *Spoiler alert* Mr Blank is in a room. He can't remember who he is, anything about his past or where he came from. All he knows is what people tell him about himself and without knowing it he is under 24 hour scrutiny by a higher power, someone with an overall view of the situation. Characters enter the room, perform basic tasks and leave and almost the instant that they are gone Mr Blank forgets who they are. So who is Mr Blank? Well Blank is Auster and Auster has taken the opportunity to anonymously write himself and all the great characters from all his earlier novels (Peter Stillman, Walt Rawley, Daniel Quinn, Fanshawe) into this book. The empty room is Austers own imagination. An effective prison to Mr Blank because he can try to walk out at any time but he is paralysed within the limits of his own mind. No matter where he goes he will always be trapped inside his own head. The cast of characters, who outwardly appear benign are the characters that Auster gave life to in all those novels. At the end of novel he is charged with cruelty, criminal indifference, sexual molestation and negligent homicide - these are all the things he subjected his characters to when he made them experience a life of his choosing and now they are back to get him. Mr Blank is about to learn that you can create a fantasy cast of people and send them out into the world but once they're out there they will keep on living and the tables are about to be turned as the author becomes the subject of a story over which he has no control in an environment not of his own making. He cannot even remember who he is and that is because he has no substance, he is being written into existance as the story progresses. This book is probably a clever comment on what it means to be a writer - you can get caught up in your own head and in your own stories. You can come to believe that the people you create are close friends because you know them so well. Labels can be applied to anything and what you apply them to does not have to be constant or remain the same. Or it might be a comment on nothing.. who knows? But I enjoyed reading it and I was extremely pleased when I recognised all the characters names although if you've never read any other Auster novels then this is not the place to start. This is only clever if you're an Auster fan. If you're not then it probably just comes off as predictable pseudo sci-fi cheese.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bill Kerwin

    Light-weight meta-fiction. Not much going on here really, but--as always with Auster--his style makes it worthwhile.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    First things first: I am an Auster fan. I’m not sure I’d have been able to enjoy this book were I unfamiliar with his work. Yes, its gotten mixed reviews. Yes, it is self-referential. (Honestly, is this a surprise to anyone? Get over it.) Worth reading for Auster-philes? Without a doubt. The issues Auster takes on in this novella (really, it’s only about 150 pages) are familiar to his readers: questions of identity, memory, the nature of narrative, among others. The writing is tighter, more comp First things first: I am an Auster fan. I’m not sure I’d have been able to enjoy this book were I unfamiliar with his work. Yes, its gotten mixed reviews. Yes, it is self-referential. (Honestly, is this a surprise to anyone? Get over it.) Worth reading for Auster-philes? Without a doubt. The issues Auster takes on in this novella (really, it’s only about 150 pages) are familiar to his readers: questions of identity, memory, the nature of narrative, among others. The writing is tighter, more compact than that of “Brooklyn Follies,” and I enjoyed it more. This book is fun to puzzle over . . . Highly recommended. If you're new to Auster, start with the New York Trilogy or "Book of Illusions."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ehsan'Shokraie'

    it is the first book i ve read from Paul Aster,the story was well versed..plot twist was well placed nd the authour just kept playin with our minds nd reader could only follow the plot...it kinda got somehoe lost nd pointless in the end..not at all perfect but still tolerable...

  7. 5 out of 5

    Erika Jhanie

    “What the fuck was that?!”, I cried at the very last sentence. I planned to read another book right after finishing it but no, Auster wouldn’t let me go. I had to make sense of it. I had to understand. I had to. So I retold myself the significant parts, read back on the details I thought I might be missing and tried to analyze what it was all about. This book is basically about how the characters and stories created by people, especially writers are bound to haunt them. Auster illustrated the str “What the fuck was that?!”, I cried at the very last sentence. I planned to read another book right after finishing it but no, Auster wouldn’t let me go. I had to make sense of it. I had to understand. I had to. So I retold myself the significant parts, read back on the details I thought I might be missing and tried to analyze what it was all about. This book is basically about how the characters and stories created by people, especially writers are bound to haunt them. Auster illustrated the struggles or if I may say, the “curse” of writing fiction. Partial stories of people were told through Mr. Blank’s readings and through people visiting him. Then it was shown that Mr.Blank himself was responsible for the misfortunes of those people.Try as he might though, he was at a loss to make sense or even find a vague clue to his mysterious past.He also sees a parade of "figment beings" , "demons... that would eventually tear his body apart.", as said in the book. Much later in the story he was asked to give the continuation of the unfinished novel he had just read. The real deal however was that Mr. Blank’s story is actually an ongoing novel by an author named Fanshawe who said that “... he (Mr. Blank) can never die, never disappear, never be anything but the words I am writing on his page." My thoughts are that the figment beings he sees whenever he close his eyes are the angry people he made to suffer.His charges. Let me take this further by saying that one of those charges, was Fanshawe himself. The camera placed inside Mr.Blank's room that captured everything was Fanshawe watching his former creator. He had outlived him and Mr. Blank is now the made-up character. This passage near the ending states the whole idea of the book: “Without him (Mr.Blank) we are nothing, but the paradox is that we [characters], the figments of another mind, will outlive the mind that made us, for once we are thrown into the world, we continue to exist forever, and our stories go on being told, even after we are dead.” There is no argument that this is like Auster in an introspection of some sort about his writer self. I hated this book for a few seconds until it got me seriously thinking long after the last page. And that’s what I love in a book. When the reader is treated like an active, intelligent participant in the fulfillment of the story.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chris Dietzel

    Auster loves writing about men who lose their memory. I think this is the third book of his with that basic premise, and he's such a great writer that every single one of them is wonderful. One of the things I liked so much about this book, besides Auster's writing and storytelling, was that there were points throughout the story where it became possible that this book was taking place in the same world as his apocalyptic novel In the Country of Last Things. It may or may not be related, but one Auster loves writing about men who lose their memory. I think this is the third book of his with that basic premise, and he's such a great writer that every single one of them is wonderful. One of the things I liked so much about this book, besides Auster's writing and storytelling, was that there were points throughout the story where it became possible that this book was taking place in the same world as his apocalyptic novel In the Country of Last Things. It may or may not be related, but one of the things I like so much about Auster's worlds is that there is so much left unexplained that possibilities abound everywhere.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Gertrude & Victoria

    I have to say this was the worst Paul Auster book I've read, and I've read most of his works. If you must read Travels in the Scriptorium, it is best that you keep your expectations in check. That way you won't be bitterly disappointed. From the very first words I thought this story was going nowhere. I was correct. When I had finished it it had gone nowhere. It was a tedious read. And a bore. At least though, the second half was a little better than the first, but overall I thought it was a lam I have to say this was the worst Paul Auster book I've read, and I've read most of his works. If you must read Travels in the Scriptorium, it is best that you keep your expectations in check. That way you won't be bitterly disappointed. From the very first words I thought this story was going nowhere. I was correct. When I had finished it it had gone nowhere. It was a tedious read. And a bore. At least though, the second half was a little better than the first, but overall I thought it was a lame story and poorly written, not the work of Paul Auster at his best. If you're thinking of reading this book I suggest you borrow it from your local library and save your money for something decent. I have generously given this two stars, but I was tempted to give it one.

  10. 5 out of 5

    M. Sarki

    Notes while reading this book: I can say that after reading the first twenty-three pages I am hooked. So much going on for me here. I especially enjoyed the sponge-bath happy ending. Beautifully done. Immediately thinking of Quentin Tarantino's Mr. Black, Mr. Pink, in Austen's character Mr. Blank. The mystery. Also the simple and sparse theater set in the novel reminds me of a stage play being acted out and a response of some sort to Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Again, the mystery is what does it f Notes while reading this book: I can say that after reading the first twenty-three pages I am hooked. So much going on for me here. I especially enjoyed the sponge-bath happy ending. Beautifully done. Immediately thinking of Quentin Tarantino's Mr. Black, Mr. Pink, in Austen's character Mr. Blank. The mystery. Also the simple and sparse theater set in the novel reminds me of a stage play being acted out and a response of some sort to Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Again, the mystery is what does it for me. While reading this novel I am made to feel the old boy Mr. Blank is on his last legs. I certainly do relate to that as I myself was crippled and forced to a wheelchair after my fall from my cabin roof the morning of Easter Sunday in 2010. But though I recovered I will never be the same and something tells me this old man won't be either. Simple pleasures such as the happy ending given by the pretty woman who happened to serve as his caretaker was such a beautiful passage and something many of us men can only hope for when we near our own time of dying. But the novel was puzzling to me in the end when the writer fell silent. I felt robbed and was disappointed with the last few pages. It felt as though Auster had grown tired of the work and found a way to bring it all to a stop. The pace had been exhilarating to me, the rhythm sweet, and I was excited to learn what comes next. I did not want the story to end. But it did, and not so gracefully either. It is possible the tale is just a simple circle and I am not bright enough to know that in my heart of hearts. Paul Auster had us, along with Mr. Blank, attempting to keep the characters straight. Blank knew he would never remember tomorrow what happened today so he wrote names down in order to remember them and somehow fudge his memory awake enough to recall and make the association. Perhaps it was dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, but it didn't seem to be the problem with Blank. He knew what the function of things were and it was proven when they switched all the tags on things in order to test him or confuse him more. It was never very clear what his keepers were up to. He was an old man who had memories of things he liked. When his shoes were off he rediscovered ice skating and imagined his floor into a rink. But he slipped and fell down and wet his pants in the course of the jarring crash to the floor. Blank could also still tell a made-up story and anxiously wanted to finish it but they wouldn't let him and that is perhaps the issue here. It is possible they wouldn't let us finish either. We have so many loose ends here. We want closure, especially in regards to Anna. Mr. Blank wasn't the only one infatuated with this girl. I am now, just in the last few minutes because of an internet search, painfully aware that all the characters found in Travels in the Scriptorium are from previous books by Paul Auster. I have not read any of them at this writing, only this one. And I am sort of glad I hadn't. But now that I am hot on the trail of Auster I imagine I will be more intimately reacquainted with all these folks in due time. At that point I will reread the Scriptorium and I am sure I will have a totally different experience. The point that Blank was being kept in a scriptorium suggests he was a writer, which makes sense now knowing what I know today. But every word I wrote at the beginning of this piece was composed with no knowledge of the past works of Auster. The fact is, in real time Auster himself is getting older. He has quit driving a car, and he has suffered many illnesses throughout his life and aware it will only be getting worse as he continues to age. Dementia is the norm for the aged. Memory is also suspect as time goes by. Keeping things straight is obviously for those who care, or can. Having additional experiences such as loving or being loved, conversations, good food, happy endings, ice skating, and even reading would seem what is most important to a person at the end stages of a long and fulfilling life. I loved the book but know I got most of it wrong. I like the idea of revisiting Travels in the Scriptorium again at a later date. That is, if I get there. Seems I am starting with Auster's latest works and hustling my way in reverse. And this method is probably not the brightest of my better ideas.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shane

    Auster invites us into his labyrinth again, then twists and turns us around with various possibilities, and leaves us hanging wondering where the heck we have been to and where the heck this story will end up. This is one of his sparsest novels. Mr. Blank— the unknown old man who wakes up in a sterile but clean room with a bed, an adjoining bathroom, a swivel chair and desk, some manuscripts and a pile of photographs—is either a spymaster or a writer. Perhaps Spymaster is an apt description for F Auster invites us into his labyrinth again, then twists and turns us around with various possibilities, and leaves us hanging wondering where the heck we have been to and where the heck this story will end up. This is one of his sparsest novels. Mr. Blank— the unknown old man who wakes up in a sterile but clean room with a bed, an adjoining bathroom, a swivel chair and desk, some manuscripts and a pile of photographs—is either a spymaster or a writer. Perhaps Spymaster is an apt description for Fiction Writer. Mr. Blank is on some treatment regimen that has robbed him of his energy and memory. He has a series of visitors, each revealing a piece of his past, each featured in one of the photographs on his desk; each has been in his employ during which he had sent them on dangerous assignments abroad, the results of which did not often end satisfactorily. A camera takes a picture per second, recording all his movements, burps and farts. He is ministered to by nurses, Anna and Sophie, who also provide him sexual favours, given that his incarceration is devoid of touch and love, and he is still capable of sex even though his body is failing him. And yet, Mr. Blank is afraid to check the door to his room to see whether it is unlocked. Instead he spends his time perambulating around the room on the swivel chair, reading the manuscripts, and trying to recall his earlier life. He appears to have agreed to this incarceration, a clue perhaps to the fact that he is a writer, safest while spending his time in his room in isolation with only his characters and stories for company. The manuscript that he reads has an eerie resemblance to his own life, that is, as much of that life which is revealed through his visitors and his own faulty memory. However, the story in the manuscript is set in the early 1800’s in some fictitious country and appears to be a metaphor for how the west was won in the USA, replete with the decimation of indigenous tribes by white settlers. If he was writing about what he knew, was Blank himself a racist who committed murder and genocide? When the manuscript ends abruptly, Mr. Blank is intent on finishing it and dives into the myriad possibilities on where this story could go. This is where Auster treats us to a showcase of storytelling virtuosity and provides us the second clue to the fact that Mr. Blank is indeed an author living inside his own fiction. The title “Scriptorium” alludes to this too. That Blank likes certain characters, even loves them like Anna, and dislikes others like Flood, strengthens this supposition. An unknown narrator appears at the end, summing up the case, and this adds another dimension to the “story within the story”; perhaps there is a third story, or many more—the classic Auster labyrinth. Is there a way out of this maze? Auster seems to suggest not. The author once ensconced in his world reaps the reward and the punishment for creating it. His characters punish him too, for the descriptive labels that have been stuck to various objects in the room get moved around mysteriously, and Blank struggles to restore the order by sticking them back properly, again conveying that very human of drives, of needing to control one’s environment if only for one’s sanity. Is he suffering from Alzheimers? This thought crossed my mind at one point, but Blank seems to dredge up characters we haven’t even met, leading me to believe that under that cloud of medication lies a sound mind trying to assert control. The temptation for the reader of such surrealistic novels is to try and make sense of them. Some have compared this book to Kafka or the Kabbalah. But I never made sense of Kafka or Kabbalah, both were too deep for me, so let me skip the comparisons and make one punt at a more surface level possibility. I could be wrong, but this is only one reader’s perspective: Auster was visioning his own end as a writer. If so, it is a story without a happy ending.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    Like Alexander taking his sword to the Gordian Knot, Paul Auster chops away at the knotty loop he's tangled throughout Travels in the Scriptorium -- inelegantly solving the very problem he created while invalidating the reader's input. Until the ending, this was an obtuse work and brilliant for it's wide angle of perspective because the potential meanings were myriad. Mr. Blank could have been anyone. His crimes could have been anything. His victims could have been everyone or no one. This was a Like Alexander taking his sword to the Gordian Knot, Paul Auster chops away at the knotty loop he's tangled throughout Travels in the Scriptorium -- inelegantly solving the very problem he created while invalidating the reader's input. Until the ending, this was an obtuse work and brilliant for it's wide angle of perspective because the potential meanings were myriad. Mr. Blank could have been anyone. His crimes could have been anything. His victims could have been everyone or no one. This was a text begging for the reader to engage with the tale and finish it off, much as the "Final Report of Sigmund Graf" was begging Mr. Blank for completion, and my delight was in letting imagination wander about from allegorical possibility to allegorical possibility, and when Auster let this happen, Travels in the Scriptorium was marvelous. Unfortunately, Auster couldn't walk away from the knot he'd tied and let us all face it on our own. He carried his sword, carried it as mercilessly as Alexander of Macedonia, and he hacked at the knot until it slumped into an uncoiled mess, cleaved into pieces, ensuring that the power of the knot was no more. All the untangling I'd been doing was for naught; while i was reading, the untangling was everything. By the end, Auster left me with nothing.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Xysea

    Okay, well I read this entire book (90 pages) within a few hours in the Barnes & Nobles. Truth be told, I read it there for two reasons: (a) I have been told to read something by Paul Auster by a few people and (b) I didn't want to pay $16.00 for it. (My daughter read the Guiness Book of World Records for Kids, lol) It's an interesting story within a story. The writing, initially, is pretty solid, pretty tight. But the story is hard to keep interested in. A lot of the plot is a description of the Okay, well I read this entire book (90 pages) within a few hours in the Barnes & Nobles. Truth be told, I read it there for two reasons: (a) I have been told to read something by Paul Auster by a few people and (b) I didn't want to pay $16.00 for it. (My daughter read the Guiness Book of World Records for Kids, lol) It's an interesting story within a story. The writing, initially, is pretty solid, pretty tight. But the story is hard to keep interested in. A lot of the plot is a description of the main character, Mr. Blank, and his activities. You get bits and pieces of the story as you go along, and there is to be some great reveal/allegory at the end. I wouldn't say it was a great revelation, but it was interesting - I'll give Mr. Auster that much. I've also been told this isn't the best of Auster's works, and I can accept that. It wasn't painful to read; it went quite smoothly for the most part, but I didn't find it particularly memorable or inspiring. Just meh. Which is how it ended up with three stars... PS The cover *is* great, isn't it? lol

  14. 4 out of 5

    Blair

    Travels in the Scriptorium opens like this: a man, known only as Mr. Blank, is apparently imprisoned within a room. He remembers snippets of his childhood, but nothing of how he came to be in the room, and has little to no recollection of his adult life. During the course of the story, he is visited by a number of people - two women who take on nurse/carer roles, an ex-policeman, a lawyer and so on - and recognises them only vaguely, if at all. He contemplates escaping from the room, but seems i Travels in the Scriptorium opens like this: a man, known only as Mr. Blank, is apparently imprisoned within a room. He remembers snippets of his childhood, but nothing of how he came to be in the room, and has little to no recollection of his adult life. During the course of the story, he is visited by a number of people - two women who take on nurse/carer roles, an ex-policeman, a lawyer and so on - and recognises them only vaguely, if at all. He contemplates escaping from the room, but seems incapable of attempting to discover whether the door is locked from the outside, despite the fact that he is able to move around and the room is small. To pass the time, he begins to read a manuscript on his desk, which turns out to be an account of a man's adventures and imprisonment in 'the Confederation', a vaguely sci-fi fictionalised version of America. This book is really an extended short story, with a strong surreal flavour. It becomes obvious quite quickly that the character of Mr. Blank is supposed to represent the author - if not Auster himself, then something of the writer's spirit, perhaps the part of him that makes him an author. Blank's visitors frequently refer to themselves as 'operatives' who he has sent on 'missions', often with seriously detrimental effects on their lives. Whether the visitors are benign, or seeking revenge, is unclear, but it does seem to be the case that by the conclusion, they have 'won'. Apparently, this story contains references to every one of Auster's other novels; I can't account for all of them, as I've only read three so far. But I did recognise the title (also the name of one of the unseen Hector Mann films in The Book of Illusions) and a number of character names, particularly those from The New York Trilogy. The story itself is very reminiscent of the tales in The New York Trilogy, with heavy use of symbolism and motifs. Altogether, it's extremely, and obviously deliberately, self-referential. I was a little disappointed in this, compared to the other Auster books I've read in the past month. I wasn't sure what the minutiae of Mr. Blank's activities (and by 'activities' I mean things like going to the toilet or getting an erection) added to the story, which was already scant enough. The story contained within the manuscript, ostensibly penned by John Trause of Oracle Night, was interesting, but didn't end up going anywhere - though of course that's kind of the point of it (the story 'ends' halfway through, and Mr. Blank invents a range of possible endings which rather spoil the illusion). After how much I've enjoyed Auster's novels, this left me feeling a bit short-changed, and while his talent was still evident in the prose style, it definitely wasn't a favourite.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    I'm not the biggest Paul Auster fan. In fact, I've never really read any of his other books. I got attracted to this book because of its odd cover and a recommendation from another person new to Auster's worlds and he loved it. This is a terrible place to start for any Auster virgin because from what I can gather, its a bunch of in-jokes from characters that were in his previous novels. Like all meta-fiction, things take a turn for the absurd and questions of truth, art and honesty run abound. I I'm not the biggest Paul Auster fan. In fact, I've never really read any of his other books. I got attracted to this book because of its odd cover and a recommendation from another person new to Auster's worlds and he loved it. This is a terrible place to start for any Auster virgin because from what I can gather, its a bunch of in-jokes from characters that were in his previous novels. Like all meta-fiction, things take a turn for the absurd and questions of truth, art and honesty run abound. I'm holding off on any judgment pertaining to how I feel for Mr. Auster until I read his other work The New York Trilogy . While I know people are predominantly split with their feelings on both sides of the spectrum with no middle-ground, I do not have any feelings towards the mans work yet. Soon hopefully, but not yet. Overall, this work was a piece of fluff that can be easily read and forgotten much like the antagonist of the book, Mr. Blank. I don't even want to get started on how pompous I think the whole Mr. Blank thing is because I don't want to give any the ending. Suffice it to say, its a bit pretentious and heavy handed. A very minor work.

  16. 4 out of 5

    TK421

    Atmospheric and disorientating. Like being caught in a fun house that is located on the tilt-a-whirl. While most readers will be able to put the pieces of the overall story together, the individual parts of the story are harder to solve. A welcome departure from what I have been reading recently. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julie Mestdagh

    Holy cow, what was that? I am a big fan of Paul Auster. Surprisingly so, really, because it is quite abnormal for this realistic economist-with-little-fantasy to like books written in Auster's style, known for being absurd and surrealistic. Usually, if it "is not possible" or "not likely to be possible", I put a story aside, labelling it as being a waste of my time. Yet with Auster's books it is different. His stories, and I have read most of them so far, with "Brooklyn Follies" being my absolute Holy cow, what was that? I am a big fan of Paul Auster. Surprisingly so, really, because it is quite abnormal for this realistic economist-with-little-fantasy to like books written in Auster's style, known for being absurd and surrealistic. Usually, if it "is not possible" or "not likely to be possible", I put a story aside, labelling it as being a waste of my time. Yet with Auster's books it is different. His stories, and I have read most of them so far, with "Brooklyn Follies" being my absolute favourite, next to the "New York Trilogy", just grab me by the throat and I cannot put them down. There's something so strange and absurd in it, that it becomes impossible not to finish the book trying to understand what the f*** is going on. And that's Auster's trick: he confuses the reader and wants to him/her to be desperate to understand. I like it. Brain puzzles. Messing with your mind. Nice. So no big surprise that the same happens in "Travels in the scriptorium", a short, yet breathtaking piece of work that once again underlines the talent of Auster. Only 150 pages long, yet mind boggling from beginning to end. We meet an older person in a room. He doesn't know who he is, where he is or what he is supposed to do there. Only few objects present in the room, among which a table and some papers, which seem to some manuscript. While attempting to read this manuscript, he is being interrupted several times by visitors, be it to take care of him, feed him or interrogate him, leaving hints about his identity or past. And all the time, "Mr Blank" tries to figure out who he is and what he is doing there. One starts to wonder what is real and what isn't. And why, on earth, if you're locked into a room and you don't know where you are, you just don't think of opening the door…. Nothing is as it seems. As the book brings together most of the protagonists of Auster's earlier work, it is highly recommendable that you read the other books first. Not recognising the characters will not take away the essence of this story, yet it will diminish the extent to which once can appreciate the quality of it to a large extent. I am an even bigger fan of Paul Auster now.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Here’s something I wish I’d known before reading this book: Travels in the Scriptorium should not be the first Paul Auster you read. (Why didn’t I read a review?!) If I’d done my research rather than impulsively grabbing this off a table because of its quirky cover (a horse! in a room!) I would have known that this is Auster’s thirteenth novel and his most navel-gazing, almost a note to longtime fans. As a newcomer, I didn’t realize that all of the secondary characters were drawn from his previo Here’s something I wish I’d known before reading this book: Travels in the Scriptorium should not be the first Paul Auster you read. (Why didn’t I read a review?!) If I’d done my research rather than impulsively grabbing this off a table because of its quirky cover (a horse! in a room!) I would have known that this is Auster’s thirteenth novel and his most navel-gazing, almost a note to longtime fans. As a newcomer, I didn’t realize that all of the secondary characters were drawn from his previous novels, meaning that the entire book is a send-up to his past work, full of oblique references. Obviously I read the book completely differently than a fan would and, let me tell you, it suffered for it. The back cover copy made this seem like a classic closed door mystery: a man trapped in a room, having lost his memory, seeking to discover the sinister force that may have imprisoned him. I’ve seen plenty of great films and books that use this as a frame, so I was intrigued. If you want the “a-ha” moment, you literally only have to read the last three paragraphs of the book. That delivery felt thin, like Auster had dashed off those paragraphs, then built a loose story around it. I was left thinking I’d wasted my time, which isn’t a good sign for a book so short that it’s practically a novella. Travels in the Scriptorium felt like a gimmick. Would I recommend? If you’re a diehard Paul Auster fan, I think you’ll find some fun winks and nods. If you’re a newbie, avoid. There’s not enough substance here to make it worthwhile. To read more of my reviews, visit my blog at yearofmagicalreading.wordpress.com

  19. 4 out of 5

    Leroy Rodriguez

    A journey into the creative chaos that fuels the literary world of Paul Auster. All the set pieces are in place for another game of exixtential chess and in the best of postmodernist traditions the player finds himself on the board wondering who is going to make the next move. As with the other Auster worlds you visit if you looking for morality, justice, or even a satisfying conclusion, you've taken a wrong turn. But if you stay you are guaranteed a worthwhile look at truth as only Auster can pr A journey into the creative chaos that fuels the literary world of Paul Auster. All the set pieces are in place for another game of exixtential chess and in the best of postmodernist traditions the player finds himself on the board wondering who is going to make the next move. As with the other Auster worlds you visit if you looking for morality, justice, or even a satisfying conclusion, you've taken a wrong turn. But if you stay you are guaranteed a worthwhile look at truth as only Auster can provide it. Sleep well Mr. Blank.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Trixie Fontaine

    The first Paul Auster I've read where I totally get why some people dislike not just him, but his writing. Felt like a little self-indulgent quick smarty-pants bullshit project/trick, or maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough to appreciate it. Glad it was short or I never would have finished it (though, annoyingly, it IS something you feel like you need to get to the end of which only helps make you feel manipulated into "getting" it in more ways than one). I guess I was supposed to feel really d The first Paul Auster I've read where I totally get why some people dislike not just him, but his writing. Felt like a little self-indulgent quick smarty-pants bullshit project/trick, or maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough to appreciate it. Glad it was short or I never would have finished it (though, annoyingly, it IS something you feel like you need to get to the end of which only helps make you feel manipulated into "getting" it in more ways than one). I guess I was supposed to feel really depressed about life at the end, but I did finish it right before falling to sleep and that was perfect and not-disturbing at all for me. I've also been slogging through Murakami's After Dark off-and-on for months so both of these books all-seeing-camera-recorder things and narrators remind me of each other. Neither as compellingly crafty or interesting as they want them to be.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth (Alaska)

    Bizarre. So bizarre, I was actually frustrated at one point. That might have been more because of other life-happenings than because of the book, so I will discount the frustration part. But only a little. I picked this up at the library book sale, knowing Auster is on the 1001 list. I didn't have the list with me, and hoped this would be among his titles. It isn't. Neither is the other one I picked up at the same time, but I'll happily read it. Also those titles that are on the list. In spite of Bizarre. So bizarre, I was actually frustrated at one point. That might have been more because of other life-happenings than because of the book, so I will discount the frustration part. But only a little. I picked this up at the library book sale, knowing Auster is on the 1001 list. I didn't have the list with me, and hoped this would be among his titles. It isn't. Neither is the other one I picked up at the same time, but I'll happily read it. Also those titles that are on the list. In spite of this being bizarre and frustrating, and despite that I have no reason not to expect the others will be less bizarre, if not frustrating. His prose is very readable, and the single characterization in this was very interesting. But bizarre. Did I say that?

  22. 5 out of 5

    Huso

    Another brilliant book by Paul Auster.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Roozbeh Estifaee

    Paul Auster has definitely gotten some brilliant ideas. In this one also he had showed one of those nice things. The old guy who wakes up and finds himself in a completely strange room. And a writer who is moving the whole thing, doing whatever he wants to his characters. Things have been nicely related and formed an elaborated story. The best part in my opinion was near the end of the book, when the old guy, Mr Blank, is making up the rest of the half finished he has read before that day. He doe Paul Auster has definitely gotten some brilliant ideas. In this one also he had showed one of those nice things. The old guy who wakes up and finds himself in a completely strange room. And a writer who is moving the whole thing, doing whatever he wants to his characters. Things have been nicely related and formed an elaborated story. The best part in my opinion was near the end of the book, when the old guy, Mr Blank, is making up the rest of the half finished he has read before that day. He does it great. His sensations are neatly described and give a clear and real view of the way he feels about what he is making as his story. The were, in some parts, in complete accordance with my own personal experience of writing, and that was so joyful. But in problems. I'd say the biggest problem of this book, was that it was too crowded. This was the same in that other book of his I'd read, the Brooklyn Follies, but the idea of the story there was not this great. Actually it was more of a spare time book to me. Thus the fact that it was bombarded with people and events did not really hurt much of it. But in this one, with such a fantastic beginning and brilliant idea, well, that was a pity. He really did not need to fill up his pages with all the things that happen in it. From my point of view, that was a waste of the idea. Concentrating on the main events, and not even analyzing them, but just a bigger description of what is going on in and outside the characters would have done much better. Actually, I believe that this could have been a masterpiece, at least a bit of one, if it had been written by a more introspective writer; somebody like Nabokov.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chalchihut

    Advertisement before the review I watched Black Mirror (TV-series) last week (also have to add that it’s already one of the best series I’ve ever watched) and this book reminded me of S2E2. I have been googling to find a connection, but haven’t found so far. I think the book might have been the inspiration for that episode. It is a short book of 130 pages and has a concept of which I wouldn’t comment about, because it would spoil the book since what’s going on is a mystery. We might bump into Advertisement before the review I watched Black Mirror (TV-series) last week (also have to add that it’s already one of the best series I’ve ever watched) and this book reminded me of S2E2. I have been googling to find a connection, but haven’t found so far. I think the book might have been the inspiration for that episode. It is a short book of 130 pages and has a concept of which I wouldn’t comment about, because it would spoil the book since what’s going on is a mystery. We might bump into similar stories on TV or books from time to time, but what made me like this book is that it is a powerful book to keep the excitement from start to end. It gives an uncomfortable feeling and tension is high. I felt more helpless about what is happening to Mr. Blank, since he is not that confused as we surmise. Sometimes the book throws you out of the room and makes you feel as if you were a complete stranger as a reader (or should I say “watcher”) of the happenings. I recommend to read it in one sitting, or at least without long breaks to keep the tension alive. Somehow it feels as if Auster didn’t spend too much time on writing it or wasn’t very interested in writing a good book. It feels as if “okay, we have this here”, but who am I to know? This is my first Auster read and it is love at first book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Simon Cleveland, PhD

    Auster always surprises me with his stories. In Timbuktu I met a dog and saw the whole story through the animal’s point of view. In Travels In The Scriptorium I meet an old man with suffering from amnesia, but portrayed in a sense that embodies us, the readers. Mr. Blank (strange name for a character), wakes up one morning in a room of what appears to be some sort of sanatorium. Except Mr. Blank feels strangely like a prisoner in this place. The windows are bolted; the room is completely bare, y Auster always surprises me with his stories. In Timbuktu I met a dog and saw the whole story through the animal’s point of view. In Travels In The Scriptorium I meet an old man with suffering from amnesia, but portrayed in a sense that embodies us, the readers. Mr. Blank (strange name for a character), wakes up one morning in a room of what appears to be some sort of sanatorium. Except Mr. Blank feels strangely like a prisoner in this place. The windows are bolted; the room is completely bare, yet the essence of it yields certain kind of strangeness to the casual observer. And the more Mr. Blank digs into his own memory to recover the string that connects his past to his current situation, the more we, the readers, hold our breath in anticipation of the revelation. Written with a vibrant style and exceptional character development, Travels In The Scriptorium will keep you glued to the pages until the very end. Do try to make sense of Auster's meaning behind this book and beware - you may discover your own Mr. Blank.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

    I guess this is one of those cases of why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I had high expectations, but this book just didn't measure up. If it wasn't such a short book, I probably would have thrown in the towel half way through.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Henrik

    When I read this I did not know it was largely based on Auster himself and his fictive universe so far (as other reviews have since told me). It was an odd, yet intriguing man-without-memory-in-a-small-room story.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    A great book if you're an Auster fan. Definitely wouldn't be one of his to read first. Great writing, doesn't get much better for me.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ted Curtis

    It’s important to me, Mr Blank. My whole life depends on it. Without that dream, I’m nothing, literally nothing. Mr Blank wakes up. He’s in a room. He has no memory, but, conveniently for him, everything is labelled. The chair. The bed. The desk. The lamp. The blind. Even the wall. Unbeknownst to Mr Blank, there’s a camera in the ceiling that takes a snapshot once a minute. There are microphones too, even in the bathroom. Walking is difficult for Mr Blank, standing too. He gets these dizzy spells It’s important to me, Mr Blank. My whole life depends on it. Without that dream, I’m nothing, literally nothing. Mr Blank wakes up. He’s in a room. He has no memory, but, conveniently for him, everything is labelled. The chair. The bed. The desk. The lamp. The blind. Even the wall. Unbeknownst to Mr Blank, there’s a camera in the ceiling that takes a snapshot once a minute. There are microphones too, even in the bathroom. Walking is difficult for Mr Blank, standing too. He gets these dizzy spells. He’s wearing striped pyjamas. The desk is stacked with papers, photographs. This is intriguing to him. He gets out of the bed and attempts to approach the desk, but he gets dizzy again and collapses to the floor, so that he has to crawl. It’s humiliating, or it would be were there anyone else around to see it. But he makes it to the desk and looks through the photographs. One is familiar, a young woman, but he doesn’t know from where. He thinks she may be called Anna. Then there’s a knock at the door. It’s Anna. Anna gives him pills, three different colours. They are keeping him drugged. Anna washes him. To keep him sweet, she renders him a minor sexual favour. He is to meet somebody later, and this somebody had requested that he wear all white, so Anna dresses him in a tennis outfit. Mr Blank asks her questions, but she’s largely evasive. Then Anna makes him breakfast. This done, Anna leaves. Mr Blank goes to the desk and begins to read the papers. They are a manuscript, written in the style of a report, apparently detailing an alternative history of the conquest of the United States. There is political intrigue. Then Flood comes. Flood is a cockney ex-policeman. He seems angry. He’s lost his job and his family, and he thinks Mr Blank is to blame. He demands to know details of a dream Mr Blank once had, in which he features; it’s somehow related to a novel Mr Blank once read, and is the key to Flood’s problem. Things are becoming more and more confusing, disorientating. Mr Blank can’t help Flood, Mr Blank has no memory. Flood leaves. Mr Blank returns to the manuscript. As the days pass, there are small, discombobulating changes. The text of the manuscript alters slightly, the labels on objects are rearranged. Mr Blank suffers occasional memories from his childhood, but they are few and far between, and frustrating. Then there are more visitors. And then there's the closet. Travels in the Scriptorium is an exercise in meta-fiction. In places it resembles a detailed exercise from a creative writing class. Toward the end, Auster delivers what amounts to instructions for building a plot. I’m told that, barring Mr Blank, all of the characters feature in his previous novels; but I’m a little like Mr Blank here, I can’t place them. That’s the effect of Travels in the Scriptorium. It’s a short novel, 130 pages, little more than a novella, but it will leave you full of questions and wonder, gasping for breath and questioning your own existence. What does it all mean? Does anything exist outside of the room? When the other characters leave, do they cease to exist? What is in the closet? Auster’s hypnotic voice makes Travels in the Scriptorium an absolute page-turner, despite the apparent lack of action. Five stars

  30. 4 out of 5

    W.B.

    3.75? There are novels with memorable stories and novels with memorable language, novels with one but not the other, novels with both or neither of those things. For me, this metaphysical fling and locked-room mystery was a fast read and the story was better than the sentences which composed it. I enjoyed the way the story unfolded but felt the language itself was functional and not all that memorable. I just didn't find sentences or paragraphs of the sort that make one want to underline or do 3.75? There are novels with memorable stories and novels with memorable language, novels with one but not the other, novels with both or neither of those things. For me, this metaphysical fling and locked-room mystery was a fast read and the story was better than the sentences which composed it. I enjoyed the way the story unfolded but felt the language itself was functional and not all that memorable. I just didn't find sentences or paragraphs of the sort that make one want to underline or dog-ear or share it with someone you care about. I appreciated the author's ability to write with such clarity and precision. It made the tale fly with the wind and I reached the destination apace. But if that appreciation sounds like a cold handshake, yes, I wanted more familiarity with the terrain at hand than this distancing narrative of cold, well-described surfaces gave me. The introspection was thin. Any novel with a protag named "Mr. Blank" is already up against it. It sounds too Tarantino-by-osmosis. He's a prisoner in a (possibly) locked room with a failing memory and a large cast of captors who come and go, moving the story forward and in increasingly menacing directions. I'm sure other reviewers have mentioned Kafka and the other usual suspects as inspiration. I got the impression Auster wanted to summon the genius of Beckett, to write like him prose that sabotages knowledge at every turn like Tinguely's self-destroying machine. That didn't quite happen. Everything almost does get tied up in a neat little metaphysical, self-referential bow at the end. Auster injects himself there, giving an "ohhhh" to those who suspected this was an allegory of the authorial all along, a self-referential battle taking place in the subconscious, skirmishes between the author and his characters. An Austerlitz. (Forgive me.) I got the impression much of this might be an allegory about the guilt authors feel when using real human friends and acquaintances as characters in works of fiction. So maybe it's an infinite recursion or regress, a roman a clef about other romans a clef. The best thing I can say about it is that it's taut. I probably should have been reading a different Auster novel. And I will. Since I appreciated the author's flow, I have no problem jumping ships but staying in the same navy.

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