28 June 2007

Travels in the Scriptorium

I picked up "Travels in the Scriptorium" by existentialist writer Paul Auster at my local library's new acquisitions shelf. It is short, 145 pages, it is new (2006), and it has pretty cover art. If you thought that the play "No Exit" by Jean-Paul Sartre was way too straight forward for you, and loved post-modernism in college, you will love this book. If you prefer straight forward narratives (a spirited defense of which can be found here), you'll hate it. I was disappointed.

Bookslut explains why this particular book is even more obscure than Auster's usual fare:

Everyone hates clip shows -- those TV shows that feature clips of old episodes . . . So what are we to make of Paul Auster? His 13th novel, Travels in the Scriptorium, sounds suspiciously like a literary clip show: an abbreviated frame tale populated with characters from his previous books. . . .

So Travels in the Scriptorium is really two books: one for Auster fans and one for everybody else. If you fall into the first group, you’re in luck. You now have a treasure hunt on your hands. You might as well grab a pen, as Mr. Blank does, and start writing down names as if you were reading Encyclopedia Brown. Here, I did some work for you:

Page 28: Mr. Blank is asked to wear white clothes at the request of Peter Stillman, Jr. (City of Glass).
Page 79: Mr. Blank receives a phone call from his doctor, Samuel Farr (The Country of Last Things).
Page 88: Dr. Farr tells Mr. Blank that the manuscript he has been reading was written by John Trause (Oracle Night). . .

There is also Auster’s distracting over-description (“He savors the bulk and softness of Sophie’s somewhat pendulous but noble mammaries”) and questionable slang (“two shakes of a cat”). Careful reading is necessary to acquit some phrases; a tautology like “the word all is an absolute term” becomes acceptable only if one remembers its pair, “the word old is a flexible term,” 23 pages back. . . .

for fans only.

In short, this book, already containing literal masturbation, also has plenty of the intellectual kind.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

John Crace at The Guardian didn't like it any more than I did.