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Travels in the Scriptorium    by Paul Auster order for
Travels in the Scriptorium
by Paul Auster
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

In his latest novelistic tour-de-force, the always impressive Paul Auster serves up the dreamlike (nightmarish?) experiences of a middle-aged man living (visiting? entrapped?) in an austere 12x15 foot room. Mr. Blank seems to be his name (at least that is what we are told), and the circumstances of his existence (fate?) within the room remain a mystery.

As his thoughts and emotions seem to fluctuate between guilt and fear, weariness and anguish, Blank - uncertain of the past, bewildered by the present, and wary of the endgame - passes time (at least as the narrator tells us) by reading from typewritten pages (a manuscript of some sort left on a desk?); other moments of Blank's day(s) are interrupted by apparent visitations from people with vaguely familiar faces (and names): James P. Flood, an ex-policeman from Scotland Yard; a nurse (lover?) known eventually as Anna Blume; a physician (Blank's physician?) calling himself Dr. Samuel Farr; and the lawyer Daniel Quinn, another enigmatic visitor. Blank, however, must also contend with intrusions (if that is the right word) in other forms by dozens of other characters from his (or another's?) past.

And while all of this is going on, a hidden camera records Blank's every movement and a hidden microphone records every sound. That, of course, raises the questions: Who is watching? Who is listening? (When you get to the end of the book - if you've been paying attention - the surprising answers will suddenly seem ironically obvious.)

Cryptic, allusive, revelatory, terrifying, and amusing, the not-to-be-missed Travels in the Scriptorium becomes a highly entertaining and wonderfully provocative metaphysical (meta-fictional) meditation on semiotics, epistemology, existence, and literature. However, don't let that scare you off from what is one of recent literary history's most fascinating Kafkaesque parables in which author Paul Auster confronts the bottom-line challenge facing all authors (and readers!): how does a writer (reader) go about the daunting task of telling (realizing) the truth? Don't miss it!

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