cover image The Museum at Purgatory [With Special and Usable Stamps]

The Museum at Purgatory [With Special and Usable Stamps]

Nick Bantock. HarperCollins Publishers, $25 (113pp) ISBN 978-0-06-757546-8

The author/artist of Griffin and Sabine, The Venetian's Wife and The Forgetting Room creates another lavishly illustrated fantasia, this time drawing up the fictional catalogue of a museum located in Purgatory. Envisioning that shadowy middle kingdom as a vast storehouse for the memories and artifacts of earthly existence, Bantock invents his own compelling version of the afterlife, in which the dead are required to examine objects culled from their lives and thereby decide their own fates. This scholar's dream is presided over by Curator Non, who suffers from a rare form of amnesia; until he remembers who he was in life, he must remain in Purgatory. Advising 10 other souls-in-transit on their collections, he picks up from each a hint of what the objects from his own collection might look like. The tour of these assemblages, documented both in text and images, begins with the Winter room. Alice Seline Winter, ""timid as a pygmy sparrow,"" is represented by mangy taxidermic specimens, animal bones welded to rocks, and French tobacco cards, all part of a larger collection she compiled to console herself for her drab existence. Another room is occupied by six magical carpets purportedly belonging to a familiar figure in literary history, Edward Fitzgerald, the translator of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Other chambers feature ""entomological amalgams"" (fantastic insects pieced together from loose legs, wings and pincers), cryptic board games, miniature mummies and an imaginary history of spinning tops. The connections between the objects on display and the personalities and fates of their collectors are interesting, but the reader is left wishing the objects weren't quite so dark and musty. Bantock's fascination with the arcane gives the catalogue a convincing patina, but it's his exactingly detailed four-color illustrations, vivified by imaginative flourishes and fanciful devices that make his books unique among their genre. West Coast author appearances. (Nov.)