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The Museum at Purgatory by Nick Bantock
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The Museum at Purgatory

by Nick Bantock

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I had been familiar with Nick Bantock's books for many years and always enjoyed his collages. In this book, the story is centered around the museum at purgatory, where some passing individuals have put up their private collections of artifacts on display. We are shown ten rooms with a brief story of what kind of life the collector led and what brought them to put together their collections. The second part of the book is the story of the curator and how he came to hold that position. The storyline is highly imaginative and give Bantock plenty of opportunities to showcase his own unusual collections and talent at making art from found objects and images. ( )
  Smiler69 | Nov 6, 2010 |
According to Nick Bantock, Purgatory is a place that “takes a meditative, non-partisan view of reality…thanks to its geographical placement, midway between the earthly community and the region presided over by the Utopian States (those provinces that lay emphasis on recuperation) and the Dystopian States (whose dictum forcibly discourages indulgence and foppery) (viii). Upon arrival in Bantock’s Purgatory, the newly deceased “are faced with the fundamental questions of self-worth” (viii). “Assessing oneself after death is a matter of measuring the information acquired during life” (ix). “In order to travel on from Purgatory, a spectral being must come to terms with those conflicting elements not dealt with previously. No god-like external judge is going to decide the being’s destination” (ix). Through the assemblage of objects collected during life, a person reviews his or her life before moving on.

This may all sound quite strange, and it absolutely will become one of the strangest books you will read -- until your next Bantock. All his novels involve mysterious characters, strange and bizarre stories, and almost all with ambiguous endings. The books are beautifully illustrated with collages, photos, drawings, paintings, and a myriad variety of visual arts. Reading Nick Bantock takes one into the bizarre world of his imagination with invented names, places, professions, and objects.

This got me thinking of my ideal heaven: a small room, two easy chairs, a radio with innumerable stations, each of which plays only one kind of music (no commercials of any kind), with a display panel showing the artist and title. My stations would be classical, opera, Ella Fitzgerald, et al, New Age, and movie sound tracks. The room would have a soft ambient light that reached into every corner. The walls would all be lined with bookshelves -- everyone I ever read – and one special shelf would be empty. When my thoughts turned to authors I liked, the rest of their books would magically appear. Coffee, hot tea, or iced tea would appear upon the presence of thirst. A door would appear when I wanted a walk on the beach, in the woods, at a zoo, or a museum. Ahhhh, that would be paradise.

I originally discovered Bantock back in the 80s with his Griffin and Sabine trilogy. These books contained letters (inside envelopes pasted to the page) and postcards between the titular characters. The drawings and stamps on the post cards and letters enchant endlessly. His books are hard to find, but worth the effort. 5 stars

--Jim, 5/16/09 ( )
  rmckeown | May 16, 2009 |
In this book, art and pictures are entwined to create an interesting story about the afterlife and the nature of purgatory. Here, Bantock imagines Purgatory to be a place of self reflection before moving on to one of the many utopias or dystopias. The story is told through the the personal catalogues of 10 individuals, and then the second half tells the curator's tale. This is a unique, thought provoking book about what our possessions say about our characters. I will definitely be looking for more of his work. ( )
1 vote Rubbah | May 5, 2009 |
This is my favourite of Bantock's books. His art is, as always, beautiful, strange, and mysterious, and his pieces are utterly convincing as detritus washed up from the lives of his characters. Whenever I read one of his books I am seized with envy. I would love to be able to write, draw, sculpt, and collage like him.

Unlike some of the other reviewers, I find this book's characters interesting and sympathetic, even more so than some of Bantock's other work. Bantock wrote elsewhere that each of the characters reflect part of his own personality, and I believe it; I felt a great deal of sympathy for them myself. If anything feels a bit forced, it's the way Bantock's own fascinations (familiar from his other work) have been assigned to his characters: postal ephemera, tops, India, shadow boxes.

This book makes me wonder; is it materialistic to say that our posessions reflect who we are? Bantock's characters are introduced through their exhibits at the museum; these objects contain a truth about the person's life, his or her strengths and weaknesses. Leaving aside the question of budget, I don't think objects can express the range of a person's character and personality. However, here I am on LibraryThing. I don't really need a catalogue of my books: what am I, the Library of Congress? I think I do it hoping to find something out about myself. Tagging, reviewing, and comparing my collections to other people is a way of measuring myself, my interests, and my history. ( )
4 vote Cynara | May 2, 2008 |
The Museum at Purgatory contains Bantock's mixed-media artwork, linked by the premise that everything pictured is on display at the titular location. The curator of the Museum at Purgatory narrates the accounts of the lives and work of the fictional artists and collectors (all dead, of course) responsible for the exhibits. And at the end of the book is a brief tale about the narrator himself. Personally, I think the book would have worked better as a whole if Bantock had presented only the ersatz museum catalog, without the story and character of the curator. ( )
  extrajoker | Jan 3, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 006095793X, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:24 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

An illustrated novel set in purgatory brings the reader on a part visual, part narrative journey through the museum of the netherworld, narrated by a mysterious character named Non. By the author of Griffin and Sabine.

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