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Travels in the Scriptorium

February 19th, 2009 by jimm wetherbee in Reading EKScursions

Travels in the ScriptoriumTravels in the Scriptorium: A Novel, by Paul Auster (Henry Holt and Company, 2007)

Paul Auster is better known in Europe than in his native United States, which is a shame. Travels in the Scriptorium is also my first encounter with Auster, which is also a shame. If Travels is any indication, I missed out on a great deal of superb and thought-provoking writing. As a bonus, this book, which is bound to remain with the reader long after the particulars will grow dim, weighs in at a mere 145 pages.

Imagine that you awake with no notion of who you are in a bare room that may be locked, but you don’t recall and are afraid to find out. You find a stack of photographs and a manuscript. From this and a few visitors you are to piece together your life. Now imagine that whatever else you have pieced together, you have concluded that you will forget it all sometime after falling asleep. This is the day in the life of Auster’s protagonist, known only as “Mr. Blank.”

Upon this scrim Auster paints a highly introspective portrait in which we watch Mr. Blank construct and match the pieces of his life. The delight here is that those pieces that are most enriching are also the most unexpected, such has how the simple pleasure of rocking in a chair or sliding across the floor and bring back a childhood memory. These odd associations in Mr. Blank can resonate in which some sensation–such as a smell or a passing reference–can bring back vistas unbeckoned. Behind all of this, however, there is a bittersweet quality, a feeling in the back of Mr. Blank’s mind that he has committed some grave injustice for which he can never make amends.

Most astonishing of all, we the reader are always given more than Mr. Blank, yet when Auster reveals in a single stroke the truth, it is Mr. Blank first understands, and the reader only later as the narrative continues. The solution to Mr. Blank and the necessity his epiphany before our own understanding is, in retrospect, fitting and undeniabl–such is the power of being one’s own subject.

Jimm Wetherbee

Travels in the Scriptorium is no longer held, but if it looks good, you can still get it on InterLibrary Loan.