Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Museum at Purgatory by Nick Bantock

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

--Chiron, 5/16/09

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