Museum at Purgatory: A Wondrous Strange Tale from the Author of Griffin and Sabine


From magic carpets to miniature mummies to a room simply containing "obscure objects," Curator Non overseas all that is housed in the Museum at Purgatory, and afterlife way station where artists and collectors comb over their lives, trying to discover whether they are headed for Heaven or Hell. As Non takes readers on a fascinating tour through each of the Museum's rooms — along with its contents and their owners — he picks up clues about his own forgotten life, piecing together a past that finally allows him to ...

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From magic carpets to miniature mummies to a room simply containing "obscure objects," Curator Non overseas all that is housed in the Museum at Purgatory, and afterlife way station where artists and collectors comb over their lives, trying to discover whether they are headed for Heaven or Hell. As Non takes readers on a fascinating tour through each of the Museum's rooms — along with its contents and their owners — he picks up clues about his own forgotten life, piecing together a past that finally allows him to conclude his own story.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060957933
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 7.55 (w) x 7.64 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Read an Excerpt

An Introduction

I met Marie Louise Gornier the other day, she'd only been dead for a week orso. Considering the things I'd done to her while she was alive, she looked remarkablyfit and healthy.

We sat in a Turkish cafe not far from the Museum and talked about our first encounter — the way Id examined her, lured her with my promises and run my hands over her body.I found myself wanting to touch her again, just to feel her unblemished skin.She asked to hear my side of the story — why Id abused her trust.What could I say? That I was obsessed with beauty? No, that would have been dismissive.So I told her what I knew of the motivation behind my actions. In fact, I did the best I could to explain my blackened heart.I watched for anger to appear on her face, but of course, given that we were in Purgatory, that wasn't likely.When l finished my explanation, she thanked me for my honesty and gathered herself to leave.I didn't want her to go.I needed more.Surely I wasn't planning a new seduction? Then it dawned on me; it was forgiveness that I longed for.How naive could I be? I stood, shook her hand, and watched her walk away.As she left, the café plump patterned cushions began to turn into Shaker chairs and the thick black coffee we'd been drinking thinned itself into Jamaican lemonade.I wondered which of us precipitated the alterations, but it was impossible to tell.

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 theiraccumulated treasures.These objectives I adhere to, though I can't in all honesty say I'm utterly devoid of prejudice, nor do I think I'm the right person to be a soul's guardian.Nevertheless, I am the Curator, and I carry out my obligations to the best of my ability.

What you are about to see and read is a catalogue of objects and events.A catalogue not in the sense of an official museum directory, but a singular selection of people, their collections, and the extent to which they are a part of me.The first section is broken into ten chapters, one for each of the chosen rooms.I have included within these chapters a visual account of the collectors' artifacts, as well as a brief description of their experiences.However, before I proceed, it would probably be wise if I acquainted you with the Museum and, for that matter, the city itself Purgatory is complex, so I ask you to bear with me if my initial description seems a little terse — later, when you come to section two of this volume ("The Curator's Tale"), you will no doubt gain a more rounded picture of the city and its population.

Purgatory takes a meditative, non-partisan view of reality.This ambiguous position is possible 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).

Prompted by the advent of death, visitors to Purgatory are faced with the fundamental questions of self-worth.Occasionally, resolution of these knotty problems can be hastily achieved, however inner turmoil often requires extended consideration in order to smooth out any imbalances.In the case of those indecisives (or examnesiacs like me) who need a lengthier period to weigh their actions, Purgatory offers an environment conducive to the orchestration of clarity.

To understand the method of self-evaluation employed by Purgatory's visitors, one must first comprehend the basic premise of life.It would seem that we spend our waking days gathering information —our experiences, thoughts, and feelings all constitute a form of data.When we sleep we deposit these findings, transmitting the information via dream images into a well of collective consciousness.This Dreamwell (which is also death's portal into Purgatory) is a swelling biotic storehouse, constantly absorbing and filtering everything it receives.Amazing, is it not, that our egocentricities lead us into viewing dreams as either irrelevant surrealism or a private psycho-oracular message service, when in fact dreams are merely the back-projected discharges of our own sensory gatherings.

Not surprisingly, after being made aware of the above, newcomers to the city are prone to a variety of responses, ranging from exasperation to exalted relief When I was informed of the reason for existence by my predecessor Curator Vey, my reaction was to burst into laughter, though to this day I'm not certain whether I considered it comedy or tragedy.

Assessing oneself after death is a matter of measuring the information acquired during life.What, we are obliged to ask ourselves, have we contributed to the greater consciousness? The answer to this far from easy question defines whether our next port of call is one of the Utopias or Dystopias.

In order to travel on from Purgatory, a spectral being must come to terms with those conflicting elements not dealt with previously.No godlike external judge is going to decide the being's destination — the Utopian or Dystopian State chosen must reflect the specific need of the spirit in question.

Purgatory's physical form can be confusing (it certainly was to me!).Its shape and configuration remain in constant flux, yet it has always existed in its present manifestation.Its structures are an edgeless mix of cultural and architectural styles that interchange to accommodate era and race.Byzantine polygondomed cathedrals become Nubian huts, Alexandrian gutter alleys turn into Hindu temples — the city is infinitely flexible.

The Museum itself is unique.Unlike the rest of the city's chameleonesque landscape the building's facade remains unchanged, but its interior unfolds limitlessly.By utilizing an architectural system of Mobius expansion, the infinite cubic capacity allows an unrestricted exhibition space within a structure of minimal exterior dimension.

As for the heirlooms housed here, they come from two distinct sources — collections (in part or whole) that have accompanied our guests as they passed through the Dreamwell into Purgatory, and works created by the city's inhabitants during their stay here.No works may travel beyond Purgatory, therefore all items, whether brought in or constructed during residence, stay inside these galleries for perpetuity.

While studying the words and images within this volume, the reader should be reminded that the Museum houses objects whose history is authentic but whose actuality fails to reside in the regular precepts of normality.

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