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The Museum at Purgatory
by Nick Bantock
ISBN 0067575463 / 9780067575468 / 0-06-757546-3
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Nick Bantock first burst onto the literary scene in 1991 with his remarkable illustrated novel Griffin & Sabine--which was as much art as it was artifice. While chronicling the correspondence between two mysterious lovers, Bantock peppered his book with visual delights--macabre post cards, intricately designed stamps, exquisite envelopes that open to disclose hand-written letters. Sabine's Notebook and The Golden Mean soon followed to complete the trilogy. In many respects, The Museum at Purgatory resembles its predecessors, mixing metaphysics and art in a way meant to both puzzle and delight its readers. The narrator offers the basic premise early on: "My name is Non, and as Curator of the Museum here at Purgatory I am required by statute to facilitate, without judgment, the progress of all collectors assigned to these halls. It is my responsibility to act as their souls' guardian, as well as preserver of their accumulated treasures." Non then goes on to give a brief overview of the layout of Purgatory, a city that "takes a meditative, non-partisan view of reality" and where visitors are "faced with fundamental questions of self-worth" that must be resolved before they can move on.
In other words, this stopping place between heaven and hell is one big analyst's couch. Non's introduction to Purgatory scans like the overly formal, academic language one finds on informational panels in natural history museums--no doubt Bantock's intention. Unfortunately, this can become wearing after a while, and it isn't until the second half of the book when Non tells his own story (as opposed to the histories of the various "collections" under his care) that the prose loosens up somewhat.
But it's the illustrations that make Bantock's books special; it's unfortunate that several of them look as if they've escaped from a Dorling Kindersley guidebook--photographs of objects on stark backgrounds with a caption explaining their significance or use. Yet this museum contains some lovely examples of its author's art. As always, his stamps and postcards are exquisite--and how many cards are postmarked Nirvana or bear stamps from Inferno? This book may not equal the mystery or sheer beauty of the Griffin & Sabine trilogy, but Nick Bantock fans will still find plenty to intrigue and amuse. --Alix Wilber [via]