Saturday, March 03, 2007

Travels in the Scriptorium

Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster

Having read and thoroughly enjoyed three of Auster's novels in the past year, I was surprised when I had a hard time getting into this one. I was excited to read Travels in the Scriptorium especially since it's foreshadowed in The Book of Illusions (my favorite Auster novel so far), but each time I picked it up I couldn't get much past the first ten pages. Eventually I figured out why: I was spoiled. After listening to audio versions of two of Auster's novels, I'd become addicting to hearing him read (he's a wonderful reader); to me, Auster novels weren't Auster novels without his voice. Armed with this realization, I decided put Travels in the Scriptorium away for bit, to wait until the right time. That time, it seems, was this afternoon. I devoured the slim volume in one sitting.

Travels in the Scriptorium focuses on one day in the life of a character known only as Mr. Blank. Blank suffers from a certain amnesia. Under constant video surveillance, he's being held in room. But he doesn't know why... is he in a prison? a mental institution? Throughout the course of the day Blank has a series of visitors. From each of them he gleans more information about his past, sparking of vague memories. Only at the end of the novel do we readers/viewers come to understand who Blank is and full meaning behind the novel's title.

One of the things I like most about Auster's work is the sense of interconnectedness. Auster is a bit repetitive in his devices (though he handles them masterfully each time), but beyond that there are references and cross-references, subtle and not-so-subtle. For readers familiar with his work, this lends a incomparable (and joyful!) sense of discovery to the act of reading.

In The Book of Illusions, Travels in the Scriptorium is one of Hector Mann's lost films. And, Travels in the Scriptorium reads very much like something that could be a Hector Mann film. Once I got myself to read beyond the first few pages, I found my hook: the reappearance of things thought lost. I won't say much more than that because I hate to spoil surprises, but that, for me, is what makes this book special.

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