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On Orhan Pamuk’s ‘The Musuem of Innocence’

July 25, 2012

Spoiler alert: If you have not read ‘The Musuem of Innocence’ by Orhan Pamuk, and intend to read it. Please don’t read further. STOP NOW. Go read the book, and comeback and discuss with me.

Orhan Pamuk is a master. But a contrived one. Tolstoy’s stories feel like life itself. Pamuk’s feel somewhat artificial – particularly the turns stories take. In ‘The Musuem of Innocence’ why couldn’t have Kemal made more effort in finding Fusun sooner? He was after all a man possessed. Rather than lamenting the lack of detectives to follow Fusun’s friend, couldn’t he have done it himself?

Why didn’t he fall in love until his 30s so deeply with anybody else? The conversion from a balanced man loving the good things in life, to a Majnu overnight looked very conniving. But that can also be forgiven, but for some more serious flaws later on in the book.

Also let me make one thing clear and reiterate it. Pamuk is a Master story teller. No wonder as he mentions in the book, he is influenced by the likes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. On the topic of masters, there are none like the Russians – Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and others.
[As an aside: Similarly in the Chess they have been dominating for years (Discounting a rare genius like Anand). Really wonder, what is it in their culture, to allow them to have such a beautiful mind.]

Talking about the flaw later on, infact in the end – Why can’t story imitate life? Athiests think that Nature does not contrive with the good, to always ensure happy endings. I would argue, in the same vein, that it also does not contrive with the evil to create accidents at such poignant moments.

And if you must “create” such poignancy, why not go the full way, and not even throw a bone at the reader. Which you did by giving Kemal one last night of bliss. I say, if the story had imitated life, then that accident might have happened at a moment (randomly) earlier from that night of pleasure. Or else (randomly) far ahead in the future from that point. The placing of the accident, just after the night of bliss, is highly artificial.

I am sorry, but I will say this, that this kind of contrived turns takes out a lot from the mastery of story telling, which Pamuk no doubt is.

When I read the first 200 pages of the book, I thought if Pamuk can win a Noble, so can Khaled Hosseni. But by the time I was at around 350 pages of this 700 page epic, I was wondering to myself – Did Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, manage to wring my heart as much?

My note at one such point in the book was ‘This author tests my patience like none other. If the end is not what, by now, my wringing-heart desires, this book is going to be torn to pieces’.

So there is no doubt that Pamuk is a master. As masterful as they come.

Changing topic and coming on to characters of this highly impressionable novel. Pamuk’s characters like his flawed twists in the tale, are flawed. And also unlike Tolstoy’s they don’t go after the highest and noblest in life.

Tolstoy’s Levin consciously searches for the meaning of life, and what is the noblest and highest in it. And he tries to live by that. So does the herione of Anna Karenina, Kitty.

On the other hand Pamuk’s Kemal is happy living life as it happens. Satisfied with the mundane and the ordinary. And when life takes that turn (which I in any case allege looked artificial), he is again seen as succumbing to it. His efforts to fight it are ordinary. A braver man, would have found out Fusun sooner. And even if had found her later as he did, he would have either forced a breakup in her life sooner. Or choosen a chivalrous way and gone on his way.

But I would concede the choice of characters is more of a matter of taste. And books must be varied and all shades of characters must get expression. And the characters however flawed, they do mimic life in this book.

So my main peeve seem to be the heartless twists the story takes. Particularly the last one. Orhan Pamuk should empathize more with the poor reader. And it is also often a sensitive reader (what kind do you expect to read your books?). Just throwing a bone (one last bliss) at the reader is not enough. Pamuk’s mastery is more than sufficient for us to get into the skin of the character and live his life. So he should not expect we are pained any less, by the fate the characters meet.

Going back to discussing characters, I am not at all satisfied, by the lack of visiblity into the mind of Fusun. I am left wondering in the end, did she love Kemal? Or if she did was it even half as seriously as he did? Why in the dialogue they have in the morning after the bliss, she just complains of not being able to become an actor?

Also her behavior that morning, looked out of place with the beautiful planning they had done in Istanbul, when she did appear to be happy by the prospect of simple marital life in front. I know Pamuk did leave a doubt as to whether it was the effort of rak1 (the alcohol they all drink throught the novel).

Going earlier on into the story, Kemal is shown enjoying the good tastes of life, including sexual pleasures. Then where do his animal instincts go in the long years of wait. Is it actually possible to a healthy person? This did not look digestable at all. He could have felt the same kind of feelings which he did, while actually succumbing to depravity. That would have looked more plausible for the kind of character he came across.

The same can be said, for the life he lived after the fatal accident. For a good 20 years or more, did he never have any desire of that kind? How is it possible to just live with memories. I am afraid, to the best understanding of life I have, it does not look realistic at all.

But all said Pamuk has created such art, such beauty that it wrings your heart like none other. If at the same time had the story followed life, the mastery would have been complete.

Alas, in my version of the same story (I want to write a different end of this story in my mind atleast), the characters would have got a little bit of fair deal in life. Fusun would have been kinder to Kemal, and empathized more with his state more vocally. We would have known more on what goes on Fusun’s mind. The Museum of Innocence would have still been built.

PS: I just came to know that Orhan Pamuk has actually made a Musuem out of that novel, spending over a million dollars (around the same he won for his Noble).


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