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The Museum of InnocenceReview - The Museum of Innocence
A Novel
by Orhan Pamuk
Random House Audio, 2009
Review by Christian Perring
Nov 9th 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 45)

Pamuk's long new novel takes a great deal of patience.  It is spread over about 550 pages, or 18 CDs in the unabridged audiobook, yet not much happens.  The narrator is Kemal, looking back over his relationship with the great love of his life Füsun.  It is a story of great loss, and we know from early on that it will not end well.  He tells of his creation of a museum to remember his relationship, as a memorial of their love, The Museum of Innocence.  It's never made explicit why he uses this name, especially since Kemal is manipulative and deceptive throughout and even Füsun is hardly a blameless victim.  At the start of the story, in the mid 1970s, Kemal is in his thirties, from a rich family, and he is planning to become engaged to be married.  Füsun is in her late teens, from a family with far less money.  In the first chapter, they are having sex, and we learn they are having an affair.  The affair lasts only a couple of months, ending after Kemal's engagement party.  She moves away to a different area and he does not see her for years, but he is obsessed with her.  His relationship with his fiancée never succeeds.  After years of searching, Kemal eventually tracks down Füsun and her family, only to discover that she has married.  He starts to spend a lot of time with their family, and pledges to support Füsun's husbands plan to make a movie.  They spend many evenings together every week, both at her house and also in cafes and restaurants.  He lives in hope that he will be able to win her over, away from her husband. 

It is hard going, even in the unabridged audiobook which is performed with remarkable poise by John Lee.  Kemal is very tiresome in his preoccupations and his fixation on Füsun.  He describes everything in excruciating detail, and the chapters crawl along.  Yet it also gives one a picture of Turkey in the 1970s and 1980s with its combination of tradition and modernism.  It's also a richly textured story with a large cast of characters.  Indeed, it likely requires reading at least twice to get a full appreciation of it.  Pamuk has already demonstrated his skills in his novels Snow and Red, and of course he has won a Nobel Prize for literature.  So there's quality here, even if it is hard going.  Pamuk's novels are known for their demands on the reader, with many readers reporting that they give up before they get through to the end of the book.  There's no great revelation at the end of The Museum of Innocence, but it does at least make one ponder what Pamuk was aiming to achieve aside from present a picture of Turkish life at a particular point in history.  The fact that he is engaged in the project of creating an actual Museum of Innocence, indicating that he believes it to be a very important part of the whole project, suggests that he really wants to explore notions of memory and obsession.

 

© 2010 Christian Perring        

  

Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York


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