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

Gertrude & Victoria

I have to say this was the worst Paul Auster book I've read, and I've read most of his works. If you must read Travels in the Scriptorium, it is best that you keep your expectations in check. That way you won't be bitterly disappointed. From the very first words I thought this story was going nowhere. I was correct. When I had finished it it had gone nowhere. It was a tedious read. And a bore. At least though, the second half was a little better than the first, but overall I thought it was a lame story and poorly written, not the work of Paul Auster at his best. If you're thinking of reading this book I suggest you borrow it from your local library and save your money for something decent. I have generously given this two stars, but I was tempted to give it one.

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.


This book was brilliant! I was completely sucked into the story and just wanted to devour it page after page. It was so unpredictable, I had no idea where the story would go and how it would be resolved or if it even would that I couldn't put it down. It was mind-boggling, a little creepy at times but very engaging.A number of people say this is Auster's worst book. Well, this happens to be the first of his works that I've read and if that's the case, then he really is one fantastic story teller. I can't wait to read more if him.


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.

Antonio Delgado

Auster owns this short novel to Samuel Beckett's Malone Dies and Watt, but also to his own The Locked Room (third part of The New York Trilogy). Travels in the Scriptorium deals with an old Beckettian topic in which nothing happens but that nothingness, is precisely the story in itself. Auster knows how to master trivial situations, which sometimes, and for the sake of this novel, feel like snapshots. He reveals them with the lucid impression of one who sees things from the inside. Trivial situations have more value than what we granted them. Life is full, but also made of them. This sentiment is closed to Beckett's intention to reduce the world (words) to the less possible expressions. These epiphanies works like Virginia Woolf's "moments of being" and the Bergsonian "durée." To understand this novel one needs to realize that less is more. The novel closes with many questions and an invitation to read it again. It's a travel to the inside of the trivial, or the real, of the anxiety of waiting for something to happen. And, as in Beckett's Godot the reader will keep waiting.


** 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


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.


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.

MacDara Conroy

A slight but worthy volume that harkens back to Auster's early work, revisiting themes like the nature of meaning and identity and even referencing characters from his formative novels.


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


If I am to be honest, the most powerful part of this slim volume is its cover art, a spectral, haunting tableau which, along with long hearing good things about the author, was admittedly instrumental in my picking the book up. I don't regret being suckered in by that hook. I simply wish the story itself had been stronger.To be sure, the scenario set up in the story is fascinating... the old man, trapped in a room, with no memory of how he got there or where he is. Outside characters and events come through in hushed tones, and add much to the suspense, keeping you on your toes and guessing. You're continually hoping to find out more... to see what you can see. In many ways, it's like the "room escape" games that populate the internet. You want him to click the desk and have the desk state "you cannot open the desk". You want to check the window. The door. On and on. Knowing these items exist and are not fully explored makes the suspense build up in your chest.The upsetting part, though, is that it never really gets there. The old man is too weak, distracted, or fearful to truly explore to the extent he could, or should. Extended sequences of him reading a manuscript put that anxiety of this man in his solitary, unsettling, constantly monitored room on pause, which frustrated me more than excited me. The worst part, though, for me, was guessing the ending a good halfway through the book. It made getting there and being right feel like finishing a chore. Not that the ending truly tells you what is going on. It remains shrouded to the last. But anyone who can get to the end and not grasp what is supposedly going on might wish to leave books of this nature alone.What this book DOES do right is the excellent framing of scene, and building a knot tight in your stomach waiting for what's next in a story where not much truly happens. And the cover. That still rocks. It's just a shame that, for me at least, it devolved so thoroughly as time went on, until the suspense and intrigue that made it so appealing disappeared, and took the appeal with it.


Patinazo de Auster, una novela de misterio tiene como misión primordial enganchar desde la página -1.Traspasado el meridiano de la historia hay una composición muy interesante sobre como desarrollar una idea para un libro de manera veloz, pero escaso bagaje para tan gran escritor.No es el Auster que conocí, tampoco es la clásica historia de Auster, te lo diré sin concesiones: "zapatero a tus zapatos".

Trixie Fontaine

The first Paul Auster I've read where I totally get why some people dislike not just him, but his writing.Felt like a little self-indulgent quick smarty-pants bullshit project/trick, or maybe I'm just not sophisticated enough to appreciate it. Glad it was short or I never would have finished it (though, annoyingly, it IS something you feel like you need to get to the end of which only helps make you feel manipulated into "getting" it in more ways than one).I guess I was supposed to feel really depressed about life at the end, but I did finish it right before falling to sleep and that was perfect and not-disturbing at all for me.I've also been slogging through Murakami's After Dark off-and-on for months so both of these books all-seeing-camera-recorder things and narrators remind me of each other. Neither as compellingly crafty or interesting as they want them to be.


** 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.

Simon Cleveland

Auster always surprises me with his stories. In Timbuktu I met a dog and saw the whole story through the animal’s point of view. In Travels In The Scriptorium I meet an old man with suffering from amnesia, but portrayed in a sense that embodies us, the readers. Mr. Blank (strange name for a character), wakes up one morning in a room of what appears to be some sort of sanatorium. Except Mr. Blank feels strangely like a prisoner in this place. The windows are bolted; the room is completely bare, yet the essence of it yields certain kind of strangeness to the casual observer. And the more Mr. Blank digs into his own memory to recover the string that connects his past to his current situation, the more we, the readers, hold our breath in anticipation of the revelation. Written with a vibrant style and exceptional character development, Travels In The Scriptorium will keep you glued to the pages until the very end. Do try to make sense of Auster's meaning behind this book and beware - you may discover your own Mr. Blank.

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