The Museum of Innocence (2009) – Orhan PAMUK

Clearly it’s been some time since I’ve written anything here. Sorry for that – it’s been quite a busy few months, and I’ve not had a whole load of time nor (for probably the first time in my life) inclination to do much reading. But I’m getting back into it, and I’ve read a few interesting tomes in the meantime. So here’s me trying to catch up on the giant backlog of posting I should have been doing.

Istanbul is a romantic city – the old clichés of east meeting west, all that kind of stuff, are true. And in the 1970s, Kemal, a young, rich socialite falls in love with, Füsun, one of his distant relatives. Of course, this cannot be, for he is engaged, and she has no interest in him. But as his love begins to consume his life, Kemal begins to take steps towards an obsession that will dominate his every waking thought, and change his life irrevocably.

I don’t think I really liked Kemal, in the end. He spends so much of his time pining for something he can’t have, without seeming to realise the girl he wants doesn’t necessarily want him, that he simply becomes miserable for its own sake. It’s almost as though he is only happy if he has something to be miserable about. And in many ways, he is the ultimate objectifier of women. He is in love with Füsun not for who she is as a person, but with the items she owns or touches – things that relate to her are more important to him, in the end, than Füsun herself. It’s this attitude towards women that really bugs me, and I know that’s probably the point of the novel, but it did nothing to endear me to Kemal, and since this is such an unneccesarily long novel, I was unimpressed each time he stole something.

There are some hilariously awkward scenes where Kemal, who just never seems to get the hint, goes to Füsun’s family house every night for months on end, seemingly oblivious to the fact that no one else ants him to be there. There are some less hilarious, but no less awkward scenes, where Kemal goes about stealing all these possessions of Füsun’s, so he can surround himself with them in his run down apartment, replacing the love for her with the love for the idea of her, if that makes any sense. It is an obsession that has no basis in reality, for Kemal truly becomes obsessed by his obsession, losing sight of what he wanted in the first place.

The Museum of Innocence is also far, far too long for its own good. As I said my review of Snow, I love Pamuk’s style, but the things he writes about are less enthralling, to say the least. The fact that he manages to stretch this story out for so long is a testament to his ability to just keep writing, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. His descriptions of Istanbul in the 1970s are nice, and he does manage to evoke the neighbourhood in spectacular fashion. But the plot rapidly becomes repetitive, with scenes that were once funny or poignant played out again and again and again. The law of diminishing returns is in full force here, and by the end, you don’t actually want Kemal to be happy.

It is a relief, therefore, to read the inevitable end of his infatuation with Füsun, in the physical sense. Her death is the only way I could have satisfactorily believed their relationship could work, because the difference between what Kemal wanted, and the actual reality of what this relationship meant was too great to be hurdled. And the way in which it occurs – something so random, so unplanned, so opposite to all the thinking and worrying Kemal has put into the possibilities of his future with her, is a nice touch, too.

I so want to love and read Orhan Pamuk. I have always wanted to go to Turkey, and I feel that, as the most famous Turkish author, I should love everything he does. But The Museum of Innocence does nothing for his reputation in my mind. Maybe if it were half the length, this could have been great, but unfortunately, the masterpiece on love, loss and growing up Pamuk was aiming for rapidly becomes repetitive, boring, with an unrelatable main character who gets what he deserves.

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One thought on “The Museum of Innocence (2009) – Orhan PAMUK

  1. wefoxster says:

    Awesome review!
    I so completely agree. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed reading it (a great birthday present from awesome friends…), particularly picking up on the historical context of it all, and only fuelling my desire to go to Turkey, it did get the better of me towards the end, with just a bit too much long winded infatuation with Füsun.
    You may like Other Colors: Essay and a Story, which is just a collection of short stories and ramblings. I read it in part for research and ideas, and I do like how he interweaves Turkish issues and his opinions, overtly and subvertly, in his writing. I think because they were short chapters, it helped keep things succinct.
    My Name is Red sounds interesting too..

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