Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster

I just finished this little gem of a book by Paul Auster. There is really two stories in this book. One belongs elsewhere and happens outside the confined space of Travels. It is still fully contained in the book. The other, main story takes place in the Scriptorium (presumably), but is really only a fraction of a larger story. The reader only get hints and suggested ideas about the full story and its grand plot, like the contour of a mountain in the mist suggests its monumental dimension. (Ups, getting carried away.)

I cannot write much about this book. First I don’t know what to write. Second, it’s so small that Imay reveal too much too easily and too soon. Instead, I’ll quote from a review of reviews (a strange concept, indeed; fitting for the strangeness of Travels):

A fairly conclusive sign that a book has confounded its reviewers’ critical faculties is when the reviewers in question aren’t even sure just what the book is. I can certify that the words “A Novel” appear on the front cover of Paul Auster’s newest release, Travels in the Scriptorium, yet, “about a third of the way through,” writes Allen Barra for Salon, “you may get an odd sense that you’re not reading a real novel.” John Freeman in the Philadelphia Inquirer Review labels it a “short, brisk, odd little fable,” and in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Daniel Dyer calls it a “spare, sometimes puzzling allegory of the mind of a novelist.” Steven Poole in The New Statesman says it is “a sort of manifesto.” Lightheaded with enthusiasm, Howard Norman in The Washington Post writes that it’s a “fictional treatise on crime and amnesia,” and then, mere paragraphs later, calls it “part dystopian myth and part literary séance.” […]

Fable, allegory, manifesto, treatise, myth, homage, exercise (James Gibbons’s word in Bookforum), “comment on the modern condition”: since Travels in the Scriptorium is only 145 pages long—it’s brevity is nowhere disputed, although those who like the book call it “spare” and those who dislike it call it “skimpy”—some equivocation is detectable here.

Be warned, the review of reviews (a super reveiw?) do reveal parts of the plot, and the plot is limited but still grand, so go read the book instead. Read reviews later.


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