Friday, September 5, 2008

Travels in the Scriptorium by Paul Auster

Should I crown a novel as successful even if I felt that one needed to read all (or at least most) of the author's previous novels to make any real sense of it? Paul Auster's Travels in the Scriptorium is vintage Auster, with the bewildered protagonist, the stark and nearly emotionless narration, and the metafictional aspects. But as one moves towards the end of the novel, they begin to realize that this novel doesn't live alone, but incorporates all of Auster's previous work in some manner.

To me, it almost reads like the final episode of a television show, a good ending where they pull out all the stops and wow you. Like a last hurrah. But Auster isn't done writing, he just put out a new novel in the past month and I can't imagine that he's much older than 60. Therefore, I doubt he envisioned this as a sort of coda to his work. I haven't read the new Man in the Dark, but the reviews I've seen lead me to believe that it treads a lot of familiar Austerian territory. I plan on picking it up soon and writing a more academic piece on Auster at some point in the future (put that on the seemingly neverending list).

I'd read only eight of Auster's previous work before I began Travels in the Scriptorium, so I am sure that I missed some references, but it doesn't take long to realize characters and names from other works. The references to Fanshawe and Marco Fogg made me almost get up and try to construct some sort of chart that would explain how this novel is at the center of the world of Auster, if you will. I truly enjoyed the way the story was presented; I really had the same blending in my gut of confusion and anticipation that I had when making my way through The New York Trilogy.

Without spoiling the ending, I will say that the actual plot, once played out, was weak and predictable. And without knowing the allusions to his other novels, not to mention characters walking into Mr. Blank's room, I can't imagine that a reader could make much sense of the narrative at all. I would imagine that is why so many reviewers have panned it. Yet the style won me over, so I suppose that I would cautiously recommend Travels, though with the amendment that one read at least a half dozen of his earlier novels first.

1 comment:

steve-mollmann said...

Someday I'll read me some more Auster. Obviously not this one, though, not right off.

I think "blending in my gut of confusion and anticipation" is a perfect summation of my experience reading The New York Trilogy. I usually had no idea what was going on or what it meant, but I was enjoying it immensely.