Paul Auster’s Travels in the Scriptorium, to say with utmost respect, is a piece of literature afflicted with dysentery. I wouldn’t say it’s bad. In fact I enjoyed it to some extent. Probably because of the title.
I haven’t read Auster before, and as I saw in the Goodreads reviews, this is a carnal crime if one plans to read this book. It is because it was constructed with a lot of in-jokes and references from Auster’s earlier books. The story revolves an old man who awakes in a small, scantily decorated room, apparently locked. Everything in the room has labels: there is a taped ‘wall’ word to the wall, a ‘vase’ to the vase, and so on. There are strange nurses who feed him, and almost always interrupted with strage visitors whose speeches do not make sense. It can be read in one sitting, being close to only 140 pages.
I wouldn’t spill the most interesting tricks that Auster employed in this book, but probably you can already see them coming. It utilizes the dear old metafiction trope (another one?!), a story within a story ala Inception, a technique which seems to be in vogue with regards to contemporary American fiction. This novel is just about a septuagenarian pervert reading some unfinished manuscript. I was kept hooked by the enigmas and puzzles Auster throws every now and then, but again, as one may easily suspect, everything was unresolved. (Oops, I never meant to spill that, but that is just lame, because Auster seems to foreshadow this conclusion consistently, so the open-ended thing didn’t really came as a surprise). Needless to say, it is one of those anti-narrative novels obsessed with Derrida’s play and intertextual babble.
But if one is familiar with Auster’s earlier novels, or if one is an addict of American transcendentalist and absurdist whodunits, maybe you can give this one a try.
So the verdict: To be fair, I would say it’s somewhat enjoyable as a parable of writing (self-imprisonment, identity, among others), and there are some comic reliefs that diminishes the stress of being puzzled. Also, from what I have read in this novel, I should say I’m impressed with Auster’s writing. Maybe I’ll try some other Auster novels. Neverless, Travels in the Scriptorium is way too cracked for a virgin Auster reader like me. In the end, this is what the novel is all about— playing, travelling, idling and fading away in a cramped room which happens to be Auster’s ridiculously voluminous skull and repertoire.