True love, and a masterpiece
No wonder Orhan Pamuk’s new novel, The Museum of Innocence, is selling more copies in the Nobel Laureate’s native Turkey than any of his previous books. And no wonder it is being called his greatest achievement.
Seven years in the making (although he did publish Istanbul in that period), The Museum of Innocence is the first book Pamuk has published after winning the Nobel in 2006. It is his most accessible novel yet: a capacious, digressive celebration of love and ardour.
At one level, the novel is account of the feverishly sustained love of the novel’s narrator, Kamal Bey, for his beautiful, distant relation, Fusun, who is a shop girl. At another level, this is Pamuk’s ode to a vanished Istanbul, and its fraught and often hypocritical struggle between tradition and modernity.
The postmodern high jinks of Pamuk’s oeuvre manifest themselves here in different forms, but they are always subservient to the interests of these two great loves. Funny, canny and suffused with the celebration of beauty in the quotidian, this is a novel that shows Pamuk juggling the big themes – love, mortality, the nature of memory and time – and pulling off his act in spectacular fashion.
Three-fourths of the way into the novel, its narrator asks us: “After all, isn’t the purpose of the novel… to relate our memories with such sincerity as to transform individual happiness into a happiness all can share?”
If that is his manifesto, Pamuk offers us a magnificent exemplar of it in The Museum of Innocence.
Here is Pico Iyer on The Museum of Innocence.
Read The Economist’s review here.