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The Museum of Doubt – James Meek

Canongate , 320 pages , £10 , PB
The Museum of Doubt is an eclectic collection of short stories that are disturbing, funny, whimsical and disturbing, all linked by Meek’s surreal style and skewed view of the world. There are tales of a planned assassination attempt on a fish smoker, a terrifying car journey, lawyers and Mesopotamian gods, and a supernatural but highly affable salesman who is the star of the titular story. Best of the bunch involves the ongoing saga of bona fide suburban nutter Gordon. He falls for his son’s girlfriend, trashes his car, manages to get the son arrested for assault, wreaks havoc on the local garden centre (trying to buy fallen Autumn leaves by the pound and twigs by the bunch), declines to sleep with his wife’s sister on the grounds that she’s too old for him, sets fire to a nightclub (what other use for the leaves would there be?), recounts a tale about a trip to Thailand where he’s responsible for a death and ends up being a hero. There’s no justice.

Meek’s trump card lies in his ability to lure his audience into a false sense of security. The opening paragraphs ease the reader into an apparently normal world, which slowly warps into something surreal, absurd or completely deranged. Meek can take you to some very dark places. What is particularly scary is that many of his characters are very matter-of-fact about their attitudes and behaviour. Gordon is a prime example – his actions are totally unacceptable by society’s standards, but he seems completely unaware of this and carries on regardless. There’s the woman who happens to be the very last Mercian speaker but her lack of communication with her boyfriend runs far deeper than linguistics. Then there’s the couple who have been living together for months before he discovers that she’s married and hubby’s in gaol. Meek gives you a glimpse into the sort of situations that shouldn’t happen to normal people, but you never know, they could, they’re not that far removed from reality. It’s just as well there are some fantastic/supernatural stories peppered throughout the book, you might get completely paranoid…

But lest this all sounds a touch too depressing or disturbing, don’t panic. Throughout every story, Meek has a wonderful knack of throwing in ideas or one-liners that are so absurd you can’t help but carry on reading with a smirk upon your face.

Any Cop?: The Museum of Doubt comes highly recommended for those who like their “short stories with a twist” to be just that bit extra twisted.

The Museum of Doubt - James Meek