This isn’t really a proper review of Travels in the Scriptorium, because, as per my review of Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities, I’m no longer interested in engaging substantially with litfic that treats women as second-class citizens. (Of course litfic authors are capable of doing this to marginalised groups of all kinds – I’ve just finished reading Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House, which is a bit yikes on several levels – but I’ve noticed that this kind of misogyny is endemic across the genre.)
The protagonist of Travels in the Scriptorium, referred to as Mr Blank for reasons that will shortly become clear, wakes in a characterless room with no memory of who or where he is. In a desk drawer, he discovers an unfinished manuscript telling a story set in nineteenth-century America – did he write this? We’re not sure, and neither is he. He also receives a succession of visitors who he doesn’t recognise and who will return only cryptic answers to his questions – oh, and have sex with him. Therein lies the problem.
There are two (2) female characters in this book. The first one, Anna, helps him go to the bathroom, cleans him, and then gives him a handjob, which is somewhat disturbing given the fact that he is not at this point sure whether she is his daughter. The second, Sophie, apparently a nurse of some description, gets him to take his pills by allowing him to fondle her breast – at which point I almost flung the book across the room.
These sexual encounters don’t, as far as I can see, contribute anything to the text’s meanings: since Anna and Sophie appear once each, they’re not setting up any kind of relationship; there’s no thematic exploration of sex or of misogyny; there’s literally no meaning to these unequal sexual encounters apart from a distinctively creepy fantasy-wish-fulfilment vibe. It’s just…an elderly man receiving sexual gratification from basically faceless women without needing to do any emotional work in return.
When I started researching this post I found out that many of the characters here are drawn from Auster’s other novels; and there’s some textual evidence to suggest that Mr Blank is Auster himself. Which, uh, explains a lot.
Obviously this is all supposed to lead in twisty metatextual directions that explore the nature of authorship, etc., and the sex stuff probably has a deeper meaning that is not misogynist because this is Literature, but I am just not that interested in giving Auster the benefit of the doubt. The way he handles Anna and Sophie here is creepy and gross. That’s it; I’m out.