February 2007

Arts & Letters

‘The Museum of Doubt’ by James Meek

By Chris Womersley

This is a hyperactive collection of eight short stories and a novella. There's the wolfish salesman Jack, vomiting a severed deer's head complete with antlers; the Queen of Ukraine, cooking pork in her New York hotel suite; and jailbird Melvin Menimonie, with his pathological hatred of moustaches, adjusting to life on the outside where his wife has taken a lover. Welcome to a world where, as a character in the title story suggests, the more you consider the worth of objects, the less value they possess.

There's no denying the crackle and fizz of the prose, but the overall effect is slightly relentless and suggests an author not wholly in control of his imagination: it's rather like being trapped in a madman's dream, in which outlandish characters yell non-sequiturs at each other. The stories are more engaging when tempered by some characterisation, as in ‘The Very Love There Was', where a couple battle over the learning of a (mythical) language, and the novella, ‘The Club of Men', in which grieving misanthrope Gordon covets his son's girlfriend, relates an adventure from a Bangkok brothel and sets fire to a nightclub managed by a giant woman. Gordon is a hateful figure, but at least he's vaguely recognisable.

The short stories here were first published in 2000 and have no doubt been reprinted to capitalise on the success of Meek's novel The People's Act of Love, which made the long-list for the 2005 Booker. The suspicion that The Museum of Doubt is a rushed effort is not assuaged by a number of misspellings, including, perhaps fatally, the "Sidney Opera House". Too vicious to be pure comedy and too abstract to be dramatic, The Museum of Doubt is the place where Samuel Beckett, Irvine Welsh and William Burroughs assembled to write an episode of Little Britain. Enter at your peril, and be careful whom you make eye contact with.

Chris Womersley

Cover: February 2007

February 2007

From the front page

A promising backflip

The federal budget appears to be back in shape … finally

Image from ‘Atlanta’

‘Atlanta’: thrillingly subversive

Donald Glover’s uncommon blend of the everyday and the absurd makes a masterful return

Image of Peter Dutton

South African farmers: we will decide

Australia, refugees and the politics of fear

Image from ‘The Americans’

‘The Americans’, the Russians and the perils of parallels

Why sometimes it’s better to approach art on its own terms


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Robyn Davidson & Bruce Chatwin

What Lindy did next

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Many me

The war not thought

Les Carlyon’s ‘The Great War’

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The debut director goes home to make a funny, touching film about wanting to leave it


Read on

Image from ‘Atlanta’

‘Atlanta’: thrillingly subversive

Donald Glover’s uncommon blend of the everyday and the absurd makes a masterful return

Image of Peter Dutton

South African farmers: we will decide

Australia, refugees and the politics of fear

Image from ‘The Americans’

‘The Americans’, the Russians and the perils of parallels

Why sometimes it’s better to approach art on its own terms

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Merchant Ivory connects gilded surfaces with emotional depth

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