Paul Auster – Travels in the Scriptorium

Originally published at The Skinny

A man sits alone in a sterile white room with no memory of who he might be or how he wound up there. Referred to as Mr. Blank, the protagonist explores the room’s sparse furnishings and his fractured memories by way of discovering who or what he is: institutionalised madman; incarcerated lawbreaker; or psychological experiment? A deeper mystery for the reader lies in what kind of book Travels in the Scriptorium is actually supposed to be: in one respect it’s a report of events seen through the hidden cameras in Mr. Blank’s room but it also succeeds in describing his inner feelings and thought processes in the way only a novel can do. How confusing.

Great writers have been known to vanish for years only to re-emerge with a stunning comeback novel. While Paul Auster never actually disappeared, his recent novels (including the Quixote-inspired ‘Timbuktu’ and the meta-fictional biography, ‘The Book of Illusions’) were far from being the postmodern manifestos expected since The New York Trilogy. This, however, is undoubtedly a return to what Auster does best. Straight away we are swamped in typically Austerian themes: linguistics, semiotics, nominality, self-reference, a sense of space without time and time without space. Scriptorium is a cacophony of ascetic oddness and thought-provoking postmodernism.

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