Grace Tjan's Reviews > The Museum of Innocence

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
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Jul 05, 10

bookshelves: 2010, ebook, contemporary-fiction, freaky-epic-love, pamuk
Recommended for: Pamuk fans, closet romantics
Read from July 01 to 04, 2010, read count: 1

I must confess that for the last five years, I have had a love and hate relationship with Orhan Pamuk (I also had a similar relationship with Charles Dickens, but that’s another matter altogether).

Pamuk’s style is meticulous and ornate, intensely introspective, sometimes deliberately repetitive, shot through with that particular Turkish kind of melancholy called ‘huzun’. At his best, his prose achieves a poetic, hypnotic quality that makes My Name Is Red such a compelling, mesmerizing read. But what John Updike described as a Proustian ‘arabesques of introspection’ could also easily devolve into interminable navel gazing that makes wading through his novels, such as The White Castle, a ponderous undertaking. This novel is a mixed bag of both the strengths and weaknesses of his style.

It begins promisingly enough with a love triangle between Kemal, the young scion of one of Istanbul’s wealthiest family, Sibel, his Sorbonne-educated fiancée, and Fusun, a poor, distant relation who happens to be a nubile 18 year-old beauty contest finalist. Their illicit romance, consummated in an empty apartment filled with his mother’s abandoned possessions (surely there’s a Freudian subtext here?), slowly consumes Kemal’s life, and yet he still clings to Sibel, who is not only understanding but is also willing to nurse him through lovesickness for her rival. This earlier part of the novel is quite compelling, although the eroticism occasionally veers towards the graphically icky territory (“As our kisses grew even longer, a honeyed pool of warm saliva gathered in the great cave that was our mouths combined, sometimes leaking a little down our chins…”). However, as Sibel finally gives up on her errant fiancée and Fusun contracts a reputation-saving shotgun marriage to an aspiring screenwriter, Kemal (and the narrative) becomes bogged down in a mire of repetitive, increasingly self-indulgent ruminations. This part depicts eight years of the characters’ lives in which the following happens:

1. Kemal hangs out with Fusun, her husband, and her parents;

2. while with her, he is transcendentally moved by some gesture or words from his beloved;

3. he steals (“collects”) things that remind him of such moments, such as the soda bottle that she drank from, the saltshaker that she used during dinner, the ceramic dog figurine that sat on top of her TV, cigarette butts (all 4,213 of them, meticulously classified according to how they were crushed),etc. He then carefully stores these items in the empty apartment and sometimes mouths them when he misses her;

4. he makes feeble, half-hearted attempts at producing a movie in which she is going to star in, but is eventually too repulsed by the notion that she will have to do a kissing scene --- or worse, be pawed over by actors and directors --- that he never goes through with it;

5. Fusun pouts and sulks;

6. Kemal is devastated;

7. repeat.

This goes on for hundreds of pages. There is a chapter titled ‘Sometimes’ (in which every sentence begins with that word) which contains nothing but random snippets of their daily life. It is cute for one or two pages, but exhausting as a chapter-length exercise.

I began to scan the pages. How long is this thing going to be on?

And then suddenly there was a twist in the story and it became good --- really good. I couldn’t stop reading --- and hoping. I forgave Kemal for being a borderline creep with his ‘collecting’ and I forgave Fusun for being so wrapped up in her acting ambition. I wanted them to drive away into the sunset in Kemal’s ’56 Chevrolet and live happily ever after in a Turkish dreamland.

And it all ends in a sigh --- a big sigh.

And suddenly you understand everything: the years of waiting, the lifetime of remembering, the significance of mundane things, the obsession with collecting, and why there is a need for so many museums in this world.

“In poetically well built museums, formed from the heart’s compulsions, we are consoled not by finding in them old objects that we love, but by losing sense of Time.”
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Reading Progress

07/01/2010 page 150
29.0% "Here I display Fusun's white panties with her childish white socks and her dirty white sneakers, without comment, to evoke our spells of sad silence."

Comments (showing 1-36 of 36) (36 new)

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message 1: by Rauf (new)

Rauf ...he steals (“collects”) things that remind him of such moments, such as the soda bottle that she drank from, the saltshaker that she used during dinner, the ceramic dog figurine that sat on top of her TV, etc. He then carefully stores these items in the empty apartment...

This part reminds of The Virgin Suicides


The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides


Grace Tjan Rauf wrote: "...he steals (“collects”) things that remind him of such moments, such as the soda bottle that she drank from, the saltshaker that she used during dinner, the ceramic dog figurine that sat on top o..."

Hmm, haven't read that.

The epic/borderline creepy romance reminds me of Love in the Time of Cholera.

Could have been shortened by around 200 pages or so --- but the last part is so good that it almost makes up for the middle part.


Grace Tjan He's building a real museum based on the book!

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/bo...

"Unrequited love makes fools of many of us. Even so, is it normal behaviour to collect 4,213 of your beloved’s cigarette butts – to say nothing of 237 hair clips, 419 lottery tickets and hundreds of other items you have surreptitiously looted from her family home, which you’ve been visiting every other night for dinner and polite conversation for nine years? And then to build a museum to house all your mementos?
At best it’s eccentric, at worst it’s creepy – but Orhan Pamuk won’t hear a word of it. The Nobel laureate’s reluctance to condemn Kemal, the love-struck narrator of his latest novel, is understandable. For if Kemal’s behaviour is odd, what does that say about a novelist who is building a real museum in Istanbul to recreate the imaginary one in his book?"


Grace Tjan Elizabeth wrote: "Wonderful review. I totally agree about the "ick" factor of that sentence. Eewww.

I love how you turn it all around though. I've never been sure that I like books better that open up for me like t..."


Thanks, Elizabeth.

That sentence was icky, but to be fair, there isn't too many of those. Apparently, you can win the Nobel prize and still write bad sex scenes. lol

Yes, reading this book has been a disorienting experience for me. How could I be moved by a book which I almost flung to the wall by its middle? And how could I end up rooting for characters that I was semi-repulsed with barely dozens of pages ago?

Either I'm weird, or that Pamuk is some kind of a genius writer.


message 5: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura great review Sandy!! I've never read any book by Pamuk, should I start with this one?


Grace Tjan Laura wrote: "great review Sandy!! I've never read any book by Pamuk, should I start with this one?"

It depends on what you like. This book is a sort of a love story (although a pretty complicated, and occasionally long-winded one), and if you like romances, I think you'd probably like this one. It's also pretty accessible for Pamuk as it is mostly realistic. If you tend to like mysteries, I'd recommend My Name is Red.


Grace Tjan Elizabeth wrote: "I'd go with some kind of genius. I have a similar feeling about Joyce. I really wanted to fling Ulysses at the wall a few times but I came to appreciate Bloom at the end."

I don't know about genius --- but there's definitely a great literary sleight of hand going on in there.


message 8: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura In this case, I should try My Name is Red since I am not a big fan of romances nowadays. Thanks!!


message 9: by Ayu (new) - added it

Ayu Palar I really want to read this! But here in Jakarta, we only have the hard-cover, I might get the soft cover when I'm going to Spore by the end of the month.

*still envy you for the e-book reader*


message 10: by Jan (new)

Jan Sandybanks I love your reviews! Always informative, always entertaining...keep them coming....Have you ever thought about becoming a writer?


Grace Tjan Ayu wrote: "I really want to read this! But here in Jakarta, we only have the hard-cover, I might get the soft cover when I'm going to Spore by the end of the month.

*still envy you for the e-book reader*"


Yes, read it. I think you'd fall in love with Kemal and Fusun. : )

Buy the e reader! I heard that the iRiver Story is even cheaper in Singapore. I think they're sold in Popular or Kinokuniya bookstores, so you'll be able to 'test-drive' them first without going to an electronic store.


message 12: by Grace (last edited Jul 06, 2010 08:31PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Grace Tjan Jan wrote: "Sandybanks I love your reviews! Always informative, always entertaining...keep them coming....Have you ever thought about becoming a writer?"

Hi Jan! Is it still cold and windy in Perth? Thanks for liking my reviews.

As for becoming a writer...I don't know. I feel that I have a (modest) ability to write, but I'm not very imaginative. I'm not good at coming up with plots and stuff. But that's something to keep in mind, since I've always loved reading and writing. I'm so glad that I found an outlet for that in GR!


message 13: by Rauf (new)

Rauf Pamuk on Kemal:

“I don’t think he’s obsessive, he’s normal,” he says. “We all behave like this but we hide it.”


Oh, st.
I think I have to read this book now.


Grace Tjan Rauf wrote: "Pamuk on Kemal:

“I don’t think he’s obsessive, he’s normal,” he says. “We all behave like this but we hide it.”


Oh, st.
I think I have to read this book now."


Yes. Read it.

Have you seen this?
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/mag...

Pamuk is making a museum based on the stuffs that Kemal collects in the book. I can't believe that Pamuk actually had collected the 4,213 cigarette butts, 237 hair clips etc., but it surely sounds that he had.

Pamuk is Kemal! lol


message 15: by Rauf (new)

Rauf If yer into this type of behavior, ma'am, then you have to read Virgin Suicides :) And I gotta feeling you're gonna get the book in the next five minutes..


message 16: by Grace (last edited Jul 06, 2010 09:37PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Grace Tjan Rauf wrote: "If yer into this type of behavior, ma'am, then you have to read Virgin Suicides :) And I gotta feeling you're gonna get the book in the next five minutes.."

Actually I found that kind of behavior to be kind of creepy, but Pamuk convinced me (by the end of the book), that it is perfectly understandable, and even kind of romantic in a sad way. That's how good the ending is.

Thanks, but having just finished this book and The Talented Mr. Ripley, I have had enough of obsessive compulsive behavior for a while. I think I'll put it on the TBR shelf or a while. : )

* Going on a vacay to Italy with Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Artbuthnot from The Enchanted April*


Grace Tjan Elizabeth wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: "* Going on a vacay to Italy with Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Artbuthnot from The Enchanted April* "

Are you? I really hope you like it."


I'm taking a virtual vacation to Italy this month:

The Talented Mr. Ripley
The Enchanted April
The Savage Garden
The Leopard


message 18: by Grace (last edited Jul 07, 2010 10:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Grace Tjan Elizabeth wrote: "Oh, nice. I've only read April so I'm looking forward to hearing about the ones I haven't read as well. Have you already read A Room With a View?"

No, I haven't. Can't leave E.M Forster out of a Italy-centric reading list. And also maybe Death in Venice. Oh, and some Henry James too, perhaps The Portrait of a Lady.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/tra...

Looks like if I'm going to spend more than a month in Italy. : )


message 19: by Ayu (new) - added it

Ayu Palar I'm reading this, Sandy, and I want to slap Kemal!


Grace Tjan Ayu wrote: "I'm reading this, Sandy, and I want to slap Kemal!"

Where are you? I guess that you're in the middle of the book when Kemal is hanging around at Fusun's house and stealing her stuffs.


Mahak I have read some 450 pages and I am sick of Kemal and his obsession. I have put the book down but I think I will take it up again.. after reading last few lines of your review.

P.S: IT BETTER BE GOOD! :)


Grace Tjan Mahak wrote: "I have read some 450 pages and I am sick of Kemal and his obsession. I have put the book down but I think I will take it up again.. after reading last few lines of your review.

P.S: IT BETTER BE G..."


The ending works for me --- but I know peple who didn't like it. I'd love to hear about your opinion of it. :)


Cigdem I am in the middle of the book and love it! This is the first Pamuk novel I am able to enjoy as I never could finish the others. I struggled through Snow. I enjoyed this thread of conversation and wanted to add that midway through the novel I visited the actual museum. Abdolutely brilliant! Once I finish the book ı will most definitely visit again and again.


Grace Tjan Cigdem wrote: "I am in the middle of the book and love it! This is the first Pamuk novel I am able to enjoy as I never could finish the others. I struggled through Snow. I enjoyed this thread of conversation and..."

Wow, did Pamuk really make an actual museum out of the stuffs that he described in the book? Could you tell me more about the museum? I'd love to see photos of it, if you took some.

*curious*


message 25: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker Yes, he did. There was an excellent article on it in the London Review of Books a couple of weeks back. I can pdf it for you if you want.


Grace Tjan Whitaker wrote: "Yes, he did. There was an excellent article on it in the London Review of Books a couple of weeks back. I can pdf it for you if you want."

That would be lovely!


Cigdem The museum is in Çukurcuma, it is the Keskin family home where Kemal went to 'sit', have dinner and watch TV for 8 years. Each chapter has a cabinet devoted to it, 83 of them. Each cabinet has all the objects Kemal describes in his story, in that chapter. Three floors and each cabinet fascinating. It most definitely merits more than one visit, ı can hardly wait to go again. Pamuk started this museum in 2000, before the book. In between, he won the nobel, gave lessons at Columbia univ. , finished the novel . The museum tells the story of everyday life in istanbul from 1950's to 2000's. The top floor is fascinating, ı will not give it away, you may visit!


Grace Tjan "The evening of the opening, Pamuk hosted a cocktail reception for 385 people on the terrace of a nearby restaurant. Waiters passed among the guests, distributing cloudy glasses of raki that looked exactly like the plastic replicas in the museum. I met Pamuk’s editor, who made my head explode by relating that, since he hadn’t ended up writing the novel in the form of a museum catalogue, Pamuk had recently decided to write the catalogue as a separate book. (The English translation, The Innocence of Objects, will be published later this year.) Borges could have written a four-page story about the madman who builds a museum while writing a novel about building the museum, but Pamuk wrote the novel, built the museum, and then wrote a book-length catalogue about it."

This is from Elif Batuman's London Review of Books article on the museum, which Whitaker had kindly shared with me.

Incredible! The story of how both the novel and the museum were built is totally fascinating. It's just surreal.


message 29: by Grace (last edited Jun 28, 2012 08:16AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Grace Tjan Cigdem wrote: "The museum is in Çukurcuma, it is the Keskin family home where Kemal went to 'sit', have dinner and watch TV for 8 years. Each chapter has a cabinet devoted to it, 83 of them. Each cabinet has all ..."

Tell me: what is on the top floor? Don't tell me it's that installation with the 4,213 cigarette butts!


Irwan Sandybanks wrote: ""The evening of the opening, Pamuk hosted a cocktail reception for 385 people on the terrace of a nearby restaurant. Waiters passed among the guests, distributing cloudy glasses of raki that looked..."

wow, Batuman's review is fascinating...


Cigdem The installation of the cigarettes is on the ground floor, it is the first thing you see when you start your visit. On one side of the top floor are cabinets full of Orhan Pamuks's handwritten pages of his work and his detailed drawings and explanations of exactly how each cabinet should be laid out. The attention to detail is scary. On the other side is the bed where Kemal spent his last days and a chair next to it on which the author sat and listened to his story. The tricycle is also there, Very simple yet quite moving. I am sure I must have missed many things as one visit cannot be enough, there is so much to look at. I think ı will go with my book next time and reread certain passages there.


message 32: by Rajitha (new)

Rajitha Sanaka It is very saddening. I haven't been able to go beyond 360 pages and have come this far with lot of annoyance. You reckon I should finish it? Will I find something interesting further down? And, I was planning to read My name is Red. Is it a good read?


message 33: by Rhea (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rhea I began to scan the pages. How long is this thing going to be on? ... This is the stage I am at. It's grueling.


message 34: by Saleem (new)

Saleem Khashan Pamuk have a problem with no cure, worddiarrhoea neurosis... I wish I went to the meusem last time I was in istanbul. But I guess it is nice to know I have something to look forward to next time in my fifth favorites city. beside I wouldn't have heard the end of it from my wife, no thanks I will go alone.


message 35: by Saleem (new)

Saleem Khashan Pamuk have a problem with no cure, worddiarrhoea neurosis... I wish I went to the meusem last time I was in istanbul. But I guess it is nice to know I have something to look forward to next time in my fifth favorites city. beside I wouldn't have heard the end of it from my wife, no thanks I will go alone.


message 36: by Helen (new) - added it

Helen Sandy, please tell me when this book gets interesting. I almost gave up on it but after reading your review, I kept on going. Can I just skip all the blather and go right to the interesting twist?!


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