Warning: This whole review is a spoiler, so don’t come crying to me later all – “You ruined the ending for me and now I’m upset and you need to buy me cake.” – because you’ve been warned and cake is expensive and you don’t deserve cake, what with the way you’ve been behaving.
Paul Auster likes a good twist and he likes to question reality and motive. His writing (at least the two novels I’ve read) also tends to reference the act of writing itself, or reading, touching on the position of Author-as-Creator or Reader-as–Participant. I like Auster’s writing, so I don’t mean this to be a dig, but in some cases, Travels in the Scriptorium in particular, he fits in my bookcase as a sort of Borges-lite.
Scriptorium is a beautifully written day in the life of an older man, dazedly attempting to figure out if he is being punished or protected in the strange white room in which he awakes. Auster excels at portraying confusion without actually being so confusing that you stop reading and rock slowly back and forth, back and forth in a tumult of mixed-up misery…sorry, back to it…Auster’s readers suffer with the narrator as he tries to understand how he has come to be in the hospital/prison room, and what role he has played in the lives of the visitors who come to berate, question and forgive him.
The twist when it comes, is not Auster’s best (The narrator is an author! The angry people are his characters. Your mind! It’s blown!)
So here’s the thing, really…I have thought about, and actually made mention several times in previous reviews (Kosiński, anyone?) of the excessive cruelty certain authors seem to inflict on their characters. My complaint is that often, this seems above and beyond the requirements of the narrative, so I should be all in to the punchline of Scriptorium. I’m not though. Human nature, it’s unpredictable.