Orhan Pamuk's new novel. Reader reviews at themuseumofinnocence.com. The Globe and Mail has a podcast of Pamuk reading from and discussing Museum of Innocence.
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Slowly, slowly, it developed: the idea of finding real objects, then giving it to the imaginary people, which then would later be exhibited in the museum, then the love story began to develop in my mind. With this novel, I was also collecting objects, say an old lottery ticket; and thinking that I would in fact integrate this, make it a part of my novel.
So some of the novel came from the objects you were finding.
Some of it; and sometimes it would be the other way around, that I would write the novel (as of course stories have their own course), and then I would come -- I needed an object, but I don't have the object, and I would leave, since I didn't want to stop writing, enjoying writing the novel, I would leave it with dot-dot-dot, and look for an appropriate object, or wait for it. I was taking my time...
At the Guardian, Richard Lea interviews Orhan Pamuk about the process of composing The Museum of Innocence, and building the Museum of Innocence; Pamuk notes that "the Museum is not an illustration, will not be an illustration of the novel; and neither the novel is a description of the Museum. They are separate entities, intertwined, representing the same story."
Embedding is disabled; but go watch the interview at the Guardian site, it's great.
Adam Shatz has published "Wanting to Be Something Else", a review of Museum of Innocence, in the new London Review of Books -- this is the best, most thoroughly developed writing about Pamuk I can remember reading since McGaha. Shatz traces themes of alienation and longing in Pamuk's writing from The White Castle through The Black Book, My Name is Red, and Snow up to the current book, examining what drives his books, where they succeed and where they fall short. This piece is required reading for anyone interested in understanding Pamuk's fiction.
For a few months now I have had fixed in mind that I wanted to write a critical essay on Museum of Innocence with reference to Snow, examining (in a nutshell) Kemal's love for Füsun as a displacement of his desire to be authentically Turkish, a reaction to his feelings of alienation. But frankly I think writing this piece would take critical, sociological and psychological chops that I do not have -- every time I have started all I have come up with is a condemnation of Kemal for acting in bad faith -- which is not what I was aiming for. So, I'm going to move on from this, try and find something else to think about...
It is worth noting -- I didn't blog the end of the novel partly out of wanting to avoid spoilers, partly out of wanting to save material for the essay I was going to write -- that the last 50 pages of the book were just fantastically good reading. All through the book I felt conflicted about not liking Kemal, wondered if it was even worth reading with such a jerk for a narrator; but the end of the book took away any doubts I had been feeling about whether this is a great novel.
It is getting much easier in the last fifth of Museum of Innocence to relate to Kemal as a human being rather than a monster... Enough so that I get a little sympathetic thrill of suspense at the end of chapter 78, when he says
So I got back into bed, and happily imagining that she would soon return, I fell asleep.
All through the chapter I have been thinking Wait, why is this not the "happiest moment" of his life?...
I was speculating that possibly Kemal's repeated efforts to define "happiness" and to see how he can make it apply to his life, are a marker for the westernized nature of his worldview and of the circles he moves in -- with reference to Fazıl's statement in Snow that he must be an atheist -- i.e. westernized -- because "I don't care about anything except love and happiness."
Calm but amazed, I said nothing: It was as if I had never noticed before what a strange shape my life had taken.
This is a really startling admission by Kemal so late in the story (chapter 75). Much of the first 400 pages of the book has been him apologizing for and justifying the weird shape of his life -- legalistic attempts to define the good life so that it will include his odd self-deception. But this line strikes me as really sincere, I can sympathize with him here without feeling hypocritical.
On today's Leonard Lopate show, Orhan Pamuk talks with Lopate about Museum of Innocence. They cover much of the ground that Pamuk and Andreou were talking about on Monday, and go into a bit more detail -- Lopate is the better interviewer. Lopate asks about the choice of the term "Innocence", which is something I have been wondering about myself. They also touch on Pamuk's cameos in the novel (he calls them "Hitchcock-like roles"), and on the museum Pamuk is building.
Pamuk will be reading and signing books this evening at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square.
Very nice to hear: the subject of Pamuk's next novel will be a street vendor in Istanbul.
It was a lot of fun, and enlightening, listening to Orhan Pamuk reading from Museum of Innocence last night at the 92nd Street Y -- he seemed a little nervous at the opening of the reading but was soon in his element. The big news of the evening came after the reading, when he and George Andreou (his editor at Knopf) had a short conversation about his books and about writing; he indicated, with reference to the lecture series he just got done with delivering at Harvard, that he was planning to publish the lectures as a short book on the art of the novel.
With respect to the art of the novel, one of the points he made -- this was in response to a question about his judgement of the upper-class Istanbullus' consumerist "Westernization" which Kemal is reacting against -- was that "Ethics in novels is a dead end.... Novels do not operate properly if we are strongly interested in passing ethical judgement," which seems to tie in nicely with my idea that this novel works much better as a character study than as an indictment of Kemal. (Along these lines he had noted while reading from chapter 43, that he had responded to a journalist's query about Kemal's "obsessive" behavior by noting that he had never used that term in the book, because "Writing a novel is going inside a person and rejecting labels, is making everyone seem normal," only to be looking through the book later and spot the line, "After that night we had both become resolved to the fact that I was never going to get over my obsession.")
All of the passages he read were from the first half of the book, and were only the past-tense storytelling with the present-tense curating edited out. He mentioned this during the interview portion of the program, without (it seemed to me) really justifying it -- he said something like he did not want to confuse the audience with that -- whatever... He also made no mention, nor did Andreou, of the museum he is building in Istanbul. This all seemed strange to me. He closed the reading with a passage from chapter 56 about "the first Islamic porn films," in which "the 'love scenes'... mixed sex with slapstick, as the gasping and moaning proceeded with ludicrous exaggeration, as the actors assumed all the positions that could be learned from European sex manuals bought on the black market, though all involved, male and female alike, would never remove their underpants."
When he was reading from chapter 44, in which Kemal roams the back streets of Istanbul searching for Füsun, while "it never crossed my mind that I would remember these hours as happy ones," Pamuk made reference to a Turkish literary tradition of the "East-West novel", which plays out between traditional Islamic culture and modernized, cosmopolitan culture -- I was glad to hear him talking about this since it's been in my mind a lot as I read this book -- however it was also a useful counterweight to hear him saying, as he did several times over the course of the evening, that Museum of Innocence is primarily "a book about how it feels to be in love," though not a romantic novel.
I struggled for a long time to convey for the Museum of Innocence this sensation of being caught in a dream. The condition has two aspects: (a) as a spiritual state, and (b) as an illusory view of the world.
(a) The spiritual state is somewhat akin to what follows drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, though it is different in certain ways. It is the sense of not really living in the present moment, this now[*]. At Füsun's house, as we were eating supper, I often felt as if I were living a moment in the past. Only a moment before we would have been watching a Grace Kelly film on television, or another like it; true, our conversations at the table were more or less alike, but it was not such sameness that invoked this mood; rather it was a sense of not abiding in those moments of my life as they were occurring, experiencing these moments as if I were not living them.
Kemal's desire to paint his life as an allegorical failure, to excuse his behavior as part of a symbolic quest, is becoming more and more a forefront element of the novel. Chapters 67 through 72 are where we finally see him enunciating it. Here Kemal and Faridun are filming Broken Dreams, Füsun and Faridun are splitting up, Kemal is teaching Füsun to drive...
Also nice, from chapter 68 -- Chico Marx makes a guest appearance:
Some stains on a few of the straighter butts come from the cherry ice cream Füsun ate on summer evenings. Kamil Efendi, the ice cream vendor, would trundle his three-wheeled pushcart through the cobble-stone streets of Tophane and Çukucurma on summer evenings, shouting "Eye-es Gream!" and ringing his bell; in the winters he would sell helva from the same cart.
* (Though contrast that with a few pages back, "Sometimes I would forget Time altogether, and nestle into 'now' as if it were a soft bed," where he also is trying to conjure this "spiritual state.")