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Travels in the Scriptorium: A Novel Paperback – December 26, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On the centennial year of Samuel Beckett's birth, Auster's new novel nods to the old master. We open with a man sitting in a room. The man doesn't remember his name, and a camera hidden in the ceiling takes a picture of him once a second. The man—whom the third-person narrator calls Mr. Blank—spends the single day spanned by the book being looked after, questioned and reading a fragmentary narrative written by a man named Sigmund Graf from a country called the Confederation who has been given the mission of tracking down a renegade soldier named Ernesto Land. During the course of the day, a former policeman, a doctor, two attendants and Mr. Blank's lawyer visit the room, and Mr. Blank learns he is accused of horrible crimes. (His lawyer claims he is accused of everything "from conspiracy to commit fraud to negligent homicide. From defamation of character to first-degree murder.") But this may or may not be true—the narrative veers toward ambiguity. While Auster's lean, poker-faced prose creates a satisfyingly claustrophobic allegory, the tidy, self-referential ending lends a writing-exercise patina to the work. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Paul Auster dazzled the literary world two decades ago with the self-reflexive, playful New York Trilogy. A dozen novels later, he continues to draw on the familiar situations and themes that marked him as one of the most accomplished experimentalists. Critics often compare Auster's multilayered tales of colliding realities and lost identities to those of Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, and John Barth, though Travels in the Scriptorium finds a mixed critical reception. Current Auster fans will enjoy the intricate allusions and wordplay. Those coming to the author for the first time may find the book obscure—or worse, unengaging. For them, Moon Palace, In the Country of Last Things, or the New York Trilogy would be better novels for discovering the classic Auster.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (December 26, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312426291
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312426293
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,336,966 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited, was also a national bestseller. His work has been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on February 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
An elderly man awakens in a locked room furnished with little more than a bed, a desk and chair, and a small bathroom. He cannot remember who he is or why he is seemingly imprisoned in that room, but he notices four piles of manuscripts and a stack of photographs arranged neatly on the desk. Not long after he wakes, a nurse named Anna brings him breakfast, then washes and dresses him all in white, telling the old man (now given the name, for want of anything else, of Mr. Blank) that the whites were a special request of a Peter Stillman. A little later, another visitor named James P. Flood arrives and questions Mr. Blank desperately regarding the latter's past reference to "Flood's dream" from a book by Fanshawe titled Neverland. Throughout the day, Mr. Blank wonders about his circumstances - whether the door to his room is locked, whether his shade-drawn window can be opened - but he finds himself easily distracted by everything from sexual longing to discovering that his chair has wheels. He is visited again in the afternoon, first by his doctor, Samuel Farr, who wants to check on the progress of Mr. Blank's "treatment," by another nurse named Sophie, and finally by Daniel Quinn, who says he is Blank's lawyer.

As the day progresses, the old man slowly pierces a shroud of guilty feelings by learning that he is somehow responsible for the lives of many others whom he has dispatched on various missions. Strange but vaguely familiar names crop up - Farr, Fanshawe, Fogg. The old man begins devoting attention to the manuscript on the desk. He discovers that it is a report, written by a man named Sigmund Graf, about events in a country called the Confederation and a border outpost named Ultima at the edge of the Alien Territories.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Linda Pagliuco VINE VOICE on April 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
The first third of Travels in the Scriptorium is strange, ala Margaret Atwood. Why is this man caged up in this little room, and why is he being drugged? Who is he? During the course of the one day encompassed by this novel, visitor after visitor drops in and imparts a small nugget of information, which, as they accumulate, begin to fill in this picture. By the end of the second third, light begins to dawn on the reader, and the last third, to the finish, though still strange, is much more satisfying. Auster is not the first author to adopt the central premise of Travels, but he makes use of it in an original way.
Despite the caveats of other reviewers, I did not find my lack of familiarity with Auster's previous works any impediment. In fact, it probably added to the element of surprise.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Andrea Null on March 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I was drawn into this beautifully-written, mysterious story from the very first page. I immediately felt for Mr. Blank, struggling to figure out who he was, where he was, and why. As the story unfolded and more and more characters came and went (not being familiar with Auster's other works, I did not realize they were from his previous works), and Mr. Blank read the unfinished manuscript in the room with him, a hundred theories went through my head.

When the book ended, I didn't know what to make of the book's conclusion. Who was Mr. Blank? I felt like the question had not been answered. Yet, I knew a book this masterfully and elegantly written had to have a point. Therefore, I did something I have NEVER done before - I immediately turned to page one and read the book all the way through again.

Upon second reading, Mr. Blank's true nature became clear to me, as did the true meaning behind the manuscript and the room itself.


Mr. Blank was not named without a reason. He is the writer, locked within the confines of his very own mind. Things come into existence in the room only when he notices them, as when a writer writes things into existence. The characters, stemming from Auster's other books, showcase how a writer's previous works forever pervade a writer's subconscious, affecting his/her life from their conception onward. Mr. Blank, the writer, is unable to write, locked within this scriptorium until his writer's block is lifted and he is able to conclude his story. The missions he sent the operatives on are the storylines he used his characters for.

WOW. Now that I have this (I believe) figured out, I must say, this is one of the most original, well-written, thought-provoking works of fiction I have EVER read.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By WG on March 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Before reviewing the latest Paul Auster novel, I'd like to point out a few things: I am a huge Auster fan. First, I saw Smoke, the movie, and even though I hate cigarretes, I found it simply beautiful. After that, I read The New York Trilogy and The music of chance. It's hard to describe these novels. While reading them, I felt like they were burning my hands, but I couldn't stop reading them. Late at night, when I could barely see, I kept telling to myself, one more chapter, another chapter, just a few more pages. Then I realized that the end was close, so finished them in less then two days. The music of chance was so hypnotic, that even if I had to walk some where, I would read while I was walking. That's the spell that these two novels pulled on me.

Now, I few years later, I went full circle. I read every single novel Auster wrote, so you can consider me a PaulAusterologist. Although I read a lot, Auster is the only author, prolific author (more than 7 novels) of which I read his whole work (novels) What did I found in this journey? He is very reiterative, very very. Most of his characters are some how in the writing business, if not writers. As he is. They went to Columbia. As he did. They speak french. As he does. They are avid readers. As he is. Of course that this happens with many writers, but this is maybe too much. Also, you always find the idea that little events, little decisions we make, can reshape our life in a blink. Last but not least, his characters are always commited to major tasks. Things that only they understand, but some how will be very important. Things that for unknown reasons, they must do. This is Paul Auster's world. And he is running out of ideas.

What about Travels in the scriptorium? Well, basically Auster is being visited by his characters.
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