Review of 'Travels in the Scriptorium'

Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster

travels_in_the_scriptorium.jpg An old man wakes to find himself in a simply furnished room with a bed and desk. The window is closed and he is not sure whether the door is locked or not. He has no idea how he has arrived there nor does he have any memories of his own - He does not even know his own name so he calls himself “Mr Blank”. He has a series of visitors throughout the day that ask him questions that cause him to begin to remember certain details of his past along with a pile of pictures and papers that he looks through on the desk. He is not aware that his every move is monitored by a camera in the ceiling. Is he a prisoner or is he free to leave? Is he a criminal or something else entirely?

One of the odder books I have read recently even where the title “Travels in the Scriptorium” comes from is not explained until the very last pages (though what it means, well, that is another story). This short novel is written in a cursive to the point of leaving out quote marks for quotes of what people are saying but also in a matter-of-fact manner from the perspective of Mr Blank and an objective observer. His daily activities are covered in often vivid detail, for example with shocking detail covering his first trips to the toilet. I begin to feel sorry for the man as he tries to come to grips with his situation but then the liberties he takes with his visitors, for example groping a young lady that comes to feed him his lunch, distances me once again though, to be fair, the lady in question treats it with some humour. The entire story comes to a bit of a conclusion towards the end but there are many questions left largely unanswered.

Enjoyable? Hum it is interesting, but enjoyable? Not so sure. A short read at 145 pages it gets the mind working. It is not particularly an intellectual novel but it is mysterious and unusual. Go read it? Perhaps not, but if you are looking for a bit of an unusual piece of literature, give it a shot.

I have read that Paul Auster is an “…author and director whose writing blends absurdism, existentialism, crime fiction, and the search for identity and personal meaning” (Wikipedia). Yep. This is an example of that, this is for sure.

Rating:

Review Date: 2016-04-26


Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

Publication Date: 2006

ISBN: 9780805081459