Travels in the Scriptorium

ISBN: 0805081453
ISBN 13: 9780805081459
By: Paul Auster

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About this book

L’homme qui, ce matin-là, se réveille, désorienté, dans une chambre inconnue est à l’évidence âgé. Il ne sait plus qui il est, il ignore pourquoi et comment il se retrouve assigné à résidence entre les quatre murs de cette pièce, percés d’une unique fenêtre n’ouvrant que sur un nouveau mur et d’une porte qui, pour lui demeurer invisible, doit bel et bien exister puisque des “visiteurs” vont la franchir… Sur un bureau, sont soigneusement disposés une série de photographies en noir et blanc, deux manuscrits et un stylo. Qui est-il ? Et que lui veulent ses interlocuteurs, dont cette Anna qui lui donne du “Mr Blank” et lui parle de comprimés, d’un traitement en cours, mais aussi, étrangement, d’amour et de promesses ? Une journée se passe, lors de laquelle les “visiteurs” qui se présentent reprochent au vieil homme de les avoir jadis envoyés accomplir de mystérieuses et périlleuses missions dont certains sont revenus irrémédiablement détruits. Et cependant qu’entre deux vertiges, corps et mémoire en déroute, Blank interroge des souvenirs qui refusent de se laisser exhumer, qu’il cherche dans le manuscrit l’hypothèse d’une explication, une caméra et un micro enregistrent le moindre geste, les moindres bruits de cette chambre où il subit son ultime et interminable épreuve…

Reader's Thoughts


First things first: I am an Auster fan. I’m not sure I’d have been able to enjoy this book were I unfamiliar with his work. Yes, its gotten mixed reviews. Yes, it is self-referential. (Honestly, is this a surprise to anyone? Get over it.) Worth reading for Auster-philes? Without a doubt. The issues Auster takes on in this novella (really, it’s only about 150 pages) are familiar to his readers: questions of identity, memory, the nature of narrative, among others. The writing is tighter, more compact than that of “Brooklyn Follies,” and I enjoyed it more. This book is fun to puzzle over . . . Highly recommended. If you're new to Auster, start with the New York Trilogy or "Book of Illusions."


I guess this is one of those cases of why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. I had high expectations, but this book just didn't measure up. If it wasn't such a short book, I probably would have thrown in the towel half way through.


It took me a while to start this book, I got it as a gift a year ago, what put me off was the mixed reviews, but now I realize why... you shouldn't read this if you haven't read anything by Paul Auster, and you specially shouldn't if you don't like his stuff/style. Fortunately, I really like how he writes, although I've only read 5 of his books so far (counting The New York Trilogy as one since I read it all at once). I should have probably read some others before this (In the Country of Last Things, Oracle Night, Moon Palace, and probably Leviathan) I'm not sure if anything from those stories has been "spoiler-ed" for me.There is only one way to describe this story: meta. It's all about Auster, who else?, it reads like his personal nightmare. The book features a lot of his previous characters, some play a part, some are mentioned by name, and some only by description. I was pleasantly surprised to find a small mention to Willy G. Christmas, from Timbuktu (one of my favorites): "A bearded, scraggly-looking homeless person sitting on a sidewalk with his arms around a large mutt."I rate it the highest because I was hooked from the start, it's short and I read it all in two days, it's probably the best way to read it since your memory can betray you with all the names and situations mentioned - not that it's important to remember, I guess. And as an end note I must add: I even forgive the scatological and sexual stuff because they were written so awesomely that I couldn't help but laugh and underline.

M. Sarki

Notes while reading this book: I can say that after reading the first twenty-three pages I am hooked. So much going on for me here. I especially enjoyed the sponge-bath happy ending. Beautifully done.Immediately thinking of Quentin Tarantino's Mr. Black, Mr. Pink, in Austen's character Mr. Blank. The mystery. Also the simple and sparse theater set in the novel reminds me of a stage play being acted out and a response of some sort to Endgame by Samuel Beckett. Again, the mystery is what does it for me. While reading this novel I am made to feel the old boy Mr. Blank is on his last legs. I certainly do relate to that as I myself was crippled and forced to a wheelchair after my fall from my cabin roof the morning of Easter Sunday in 2010. But though I recovered I will never be the same and something tells me this old man won't be either. Simple pleasures such as the happy ending given by the pretty woman who happened to serve as his caretaker was such a beautiful passage and something many of us men can only hope for when we near our own time of dying. But the novel was puzzling to me in the end when the writer fell silent. I felt robbed and was disappointed with the last few pages. It felt as though Auster had grown tired of the work and found a way to bring it all to a stop. The pace had been exhilarating to me, the rhythm sweet, and I was excited to learn what comes next. I did not want the story to end. But it did, and not so gracefully either. It is possible the tale is just a simple circle and I am not bright enough to know that in my heart of hearts. Paul Auster had us, along with Mr. Blank, attempting to keep the characters straight. Blank knew he would never remember tomorrow what happened today so he wrote names down in order to remember them and somehow fudge his memory awake enough to recall and make the association. Perhaps it was dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, but it didn't seem to be the problem with Blank. He knew what the function of things were and it was proven when they switched all the tags on things in order to test him or confuse him more. It was never very clear what his keepers were up to. He was an old man who had memories of things he liked. When his shoes were off he rediscovered ice skating and imagined his floor into a rink. But he slipped and fell down and wet his pants in the course of the jarring crash to the floor. Blank could also still tell a made-up story and anxiously wanted to finish it but they wouldn't let him and that is perhaps the issue here. It is possible they wouldn't let us finish either. We have so many loose ends here. We want closure, especially in regards to Anna. Mr. Blank wasn't the only one infatuated with this girl. I am now, just in the last few minutes because of an internet search, painfully aware that all the characters found in Travels in the Scriptorium are from previous books by Paul Auster. I have not read any of them at this writing, only this one. And I am sort of glad I hadn't. But now that I am hot on the trail of Auster I imagine I will be more intimately reacquainted with all these folks in due time. At that point I will reread the Scriptorium and I am sure I will have a totally different experience. The point that Blank was being kept in a scriptorium suggests he was a writer, which makes sense now knowing what I know today. But every word I wrote at the beginning of this piece was composed with no knowledge of the past works of Auster. The fact is, in real time Auster himself is getting older. He has quit driving a car, and he has suffered many illnesses throughout his life and aware it will only be getting worse as he continues to age. Dementia is the norm for the aged. Memory is also suspect as time goes by. Keeping things straight is obviously for those who care, or can. Having additional experiences such as loving or being loved, conversations, good food, happy endings, ice skating, and even reading would seem what is most important to a person at the end stages of a long and fulfilling life. I loved the book but know I got most of it wrong. I like the idea of revisiting Travels in the Scriptorium again at a later date. That is, if I get there. Seems I am starting with Auster's latest works and hustling my way in reverse. And this method is probably not the brightest of my better ideas.


** spoiler alert ** As down with Auster as I am, this little novella just completely failed me. To sum it up, it's all these characters from Auster's other books seeking revenge on this person who sent them on their "missions"--Auster himself, I suppose. It's his characters putting him through one of his stories, locking him in a mysterious room and taking away his memories so he's in one of his own puzzles. How droll! If you haven't read his other books, it might be interesting--might, I don't know. Having read them I found myself learning nothing new about the other characters and reading a story that fails to stand on its own merits.What I find most disappointing about it is the clumsiness of all the characters being in one spot. One of his neat little tricks in his works is to have a character from another book sort of whizz by in whatever you're reading, and you are sitting there wondering whether this happened before, or what, whether Quinn or Stillman or whomever has gone nuts yet, or is going to. But Travels takes it to this absurd length where it ceases to have any impact and instead reads like a list of characters and some ham-fisted attempt to shoehorn them into a plotless story. If you like Auster, don't read this, just ignore it and enjoy the obvious genius in his other books. Reading this is like seeing your grandfather naked--just disappointing and upsetting, and sad.


Auster se encierra en un sanatorio con algunos de los personajes del resto de su obra. Me planteo si tal vez me hubiera gustado más de haber tenido más recientes sus otros libros, pero me parece que no. Decepcionante, pretencioso y con bastante de paja mental.


** spoiler alert ** Here’s something I wish I’d known before reading this book: Travels in the Scriptorium should not be the first Paul Auster you read. (Why didn’t I read a review?!) If I’d done my research rather than impulsively grabbing this off a table because of its quirky cover (a horse! in a room!) I would have known that this is Auster’s thirteenth novel and his most navel-gazing, almost a note to longtime fans. As a newcomer, I didn’t realize that all of the secondary characters were drawn from his previous novels, meaning that the entire book is a send-up to his past work, full of oblique references. Obviously I read the book completely differently than a fan would and, let me tell you, it suffered for it.The back cover copy made this seem like a classic closed door mystery: a man trapped in a room, having lost his memory, seeking to discover the sinister force that may have imprisoned him. I’ve seen plenty of great films and books that use this as a frame, so I was intrigued. If you want the “a-ha” moment, you literally only have to read the last three paragraphs of the book. That delivery felt thin, like Auster had dashed off those paragraphs, then built a loose story around it. I was left thinking I’d wasted my time, which isn’t a good sign for a book so short that it’s practically a novella. Travels in the Scriptorium felt like a gimmick.Would I recommend? If you’re a diehard Paul Auster fan, I think you’ll find some fun winks and nods. If you’re a newbie, avoid. There’s not enough substance here to make it worthwhile.To read more of my reviews, visit my blog at


When I read this I did not know it was largely based on Auster himself and his fictive universe so far (as other reviews have since told me). It was an odd, yet intriguing man-without-memory-in-a-small-room story.


Wow. Wow wow wow Paul frickin Auster. Read this in one sitting and now I can't stop thinking about it. Horrifying and beautiful. Super tight writing, too. Now to read the New York Trilogy.

Stevo B

What a strange book. If on a winter's night...esque. An authorly froth through memory etc. I was engrossed by the story and wanted to know where it would go. Predictably it went nowhere. After reading it I saw reviews mention all the characters in the novel are from his other books and Mr Blank is Auster. It seems the story is about an author living with the characters he has created. This book is probably a clever comment on what it means to be a writer - you can get caught up in your own head and in your own stories. You can come to believe that the people you create are close friends. All that was lost on me because I hadn't read any other Auster. I wonder, don't books have to stand on their own and not be cross-referential?


I'm not the biggest Paul Auster fan. In fact, I've never really read any of his other books. I got attracted to this book because of its odd cover and a recommendation from another person new to Auster's worlds and he loved it. This is a terrible place to start for any Auster virgin because from what I can gather, its a bunch of in-jokes from characters that were in his previous novels. Like all meta-fiction, things take a turn for the absurd and questions of truth, art and honesty run abound. I'm holding off on any judgment pertaining to how I feel for Mr. Auster until I read his other work The New York Trilogy . While I know people are predominantly split with their feelings on both sides of the spectrum with no middle-ground, I do not have any feelings towards the mans work yet. Soon hopefully, but not yet.Overall, this work was a piece of fluff that can be easily read and forgotten much like the antagonist of the book, Mr. Blank. I don't even want to get started on how pompous I think the whole Mr. Blank thing is because I don't want to give any the ending. Suffice it to say, its a bit pretentious and heavy handed.A very minor work.


la primera vez que abandono un libro de Auster, que pesado, que pedante...en fin alguno malo tenia que tener...


بعد از کشور آخرین‌های پل استر مدت‌ها بود که هیچ کتابی منو شگفت زده نکرده بود اما باز هم پل استر در کتابی دیگر منو کاملا به وجد آورد. این کتاب با ایده‌ی جالبی که داره و توصیفات دقیقی که ارائه می‌ده با ذهن خواننده به راحتی و با ظرافت بازی می‌کنه و در نهایت درست وقتی که ذهن آرام گرفته اونو به هیجان می‌یاره... توصیه می‌کنم اول کتاب "کشور آخرین‌ها" رو بخونید از پل استر بعد بیایید سراغ سفر در اتاق تحریر ( همونطور که دوستی به من این توصیه‌ی ارزشمند رو کرد) اما به این کتاب 5 ستاره‌ی کامل رو ندادم چون انتهای ِبسیار مبهمی داشت... شاید اگر دوباره این کتاب رو بخونم 5 ستاره بهش خواهم داد ...

Pilar Merino

** spoiler alert ** Paul Auster, considered as one of the great writers nowadays, both for the great quantity of works he has produced and because he offers a kind of narrative escaping from the traditional story-telling. He has been given many prizes and awards; in 2006 he received the Príncipe de Asturias for Literature.The story is about a quite old man living in a room, ignoring if he is free. He seems quite sick, with problems to get dressed, to feed himself and to move safely. Five people go and visit him: two women and three men, an ex policeman, his doctor and his solicitor who tells the many serious charges he is acused of.Paul Auster has always been very fond of existentialist thinking; his staying in Paris gave him the chance of absorbing Sartre's ideas.His books are full of good stories, he is a good narrator,being able to create a world that lies on the edge of the unreason.However, I think that his creative process was different this time. Being close to the old age, on the verge of the unavoidable must be quite hard, it means you are at the point of no return. In my opinion, this is the state of mind with which Auster began the writing of "Travels in the Scriptorium", a book full of symbols. Beginning with the main character's name, Mr Blank,- blank= empty,- is very explanatory. The room where he is kept is full of labels each of them with the name of an object in the room. Is it because old people forget things or because he suffered a kind of accident? Mr Blank represents the old age with all its disadvantages and discapacities, when everything, sooner or later, begins to work in an improper or irregular way. Another feature of the ancientness is that your mind flies to the past, to those sweet memories of childhood, what Mr Blank often does. But as well as you remember the good times, bad times appear with their effects: sorrow, repentance, anguish, guilt (pages 18,26,35,43).There is another metaphore in the story: the room can represent the brains where the intelligence and the soul are. The room is almost empty because of the loss of memory of people at that age. The door for the closet he couldn't find may be those areas of the brain where we place the discarded ideas or those zones still well kept with well organized information but where we forgot how to get to. It reminds me of a book I have recently read "El cuarto de atrás" de carmen Martín Gaite.The last symbol concerns the name of the book. The SCRIPTORIUM was a room that all medieval monastic communities had for the making of manuscripts: the copy of texts and the decoration of some pages, as well as the design of initial letters, what was known as the illumination of the text. Paul Auster calls his book "Travels in he Sciptorium" because of the comings and goings from the outer world into the inner world, and having Mr Blank as the person who,like the monks, sat at a desk to read and make a story. We move between fantasy and reality.Mr Blank finishes the story giving it the name of "Travels in the Scriptorium" by N.R.Fanshawe. And as in the theatre, the play finishes when lights go out.


Travels in the Scriptorium opens like this: a man, known only as Mr. Blank, is apparently imprisoned within a room. He remembers snippets of his childhood, but nothing of how he came to be in the room, and has little to no recollection of his adult life. During the course of the story, he is visited by a number of people - two women who take on nurse/carer roles, an ex-policeman, a lawyer and so on - and recognises them only vaguely, if at all. He contemplates escaping from the room, but seems incapable of attempting to discover whether the door is locked from the outside, despite the fact that he is able to move around and the room is small. To pass the time, he begins to read a manuscript on his desk, which turns out to be an account of a man's adventures and imprisonment in 'the Confederation', a vaguely sci-fi fictionalised version of America.This book is really an extended short story, with a strong surreal flavour. It becomes obvious quite quickly that the character of Mr. Blank is supposed to represent the author - if not Auster himself, then something of the writer's spirit, perhaps the part of him that makes him an author. Blank's visitors frequently refer to themselves as 'operatives' who he has sent on 'missions', often with seriously detrimental effects on their lives. Whether the visitors are benign, or seeking revenge, is unclear, but it does seem to be the case that by the conclusion, they have 'won'. Apparently, this story contains references to every one of Auster's other novels; I can't account for all of them, as I've only read three so far. But I did recognise the title (also the name of one of the unseen Hector Mann films in The Book of Illusions) and a number of character names, particularly those from The New York Trilogy. The story itself is very reminiscent of the tales in The New York Trilogy, with heavy use of symbolism and motifs. Altogether, it's extremely, and obviously deliberately, self-referential.I was a little disappointed in this, compared to the other Auster books I've read in the past month. I wasn't sure what the minutiae of Mr. Blank's activities (and by 'activities' I mean things like going to the toilet or getting an erection) added to the story, which was already scant enough. The story contained within the manuscript, ostensibly penned by John Trause of Oracle Night, was interesting, but didn't end up going anywhere - though of course that's kind of the point of it (the story 'ends' halfway through, and Mr. Blank invents a range of possible endings which rather spoil the illusion). After how much I've enjoyed Auster's novels, this left me feeling a bit short-changed, and while his talent was still evident in the prose style, it definitely wasn't a favourite.

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