Garry's Reviews > My Name is Red

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk
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May 20, 11

Read from April 27 to May 21, 2011

There was no doubt in my mind when I was reading My Name is Red that it was a masterpiece of literature. Pamuk not only devised a clever structure for his novel, but he also executed it amazingly well. It strikes me that this book must have taken a long time to write and rewrite. I'm impressed not only with the skill, but also the patience that was evident.

You might think that it sounds like an Agatha Christie novel: a murder is committed by one of a handful of suspects. The facts of the case don't lead us to discover the identity of the murderer. For that, there is a slow reveal into the psychology behind the motive. Or maybe it's an old-style Mills and Boon, with a chaste but burning love story, dripping with unrequited desire until a magical consummation at the end. But it's definitely not a Christie-style page turner, and it's certainly not Mills and Boon. Characters and plot are secondary to philosophical discussion - they feel like a means to an end. This is high end literature in its highest and most literary form.

I am quite proud of the fact that I sat through many pages of obscure and detailed discussion about the philosophy of art. And just as it started to feel like too much of an endurance event, in kicked the murder mystery plot again, or a glimpse of lovers' machinations.

But even the philosophical discussions felt secondary to me. I suspect that I'll be thinking about this book for some time, and rereading it from time to time to unravel its themes. A sentence like "Painting is the silence of thought and the music of sight"... that's the kind of thing that makes you pause, and run the words over in your mind. It's so dripping with weight and purpose that you need to extract its true meaning. At least I do.

One concept that Pahuk returns to again and again is blindness: a true master artist will go blind in the end; that art relies on memories and experience rather than sight. Several characters are blinded, either at their own hand or others. What does it mean? Is the author trying to tell me not to try too hard to see the meaning when I try to understand his art? That I should let my mind's eye go blank and absorb the meaning rather than focus on trying to see the interpretation? Is this how we are supposed to appreciate art?

Having said all that, My Name is Red is not an easy read. As brilliant as it is, and as much as I suspect it will haunt me, I can't give it more than 4 stars. Maybe I have learned something: brilliant art is not always easy or pleasant.

I will leave you with a delicious passage...

"Don't forget: Marriage douses love's flame, leaving nothing but a barren and melancholy blackness. Of course, after marriage, love itself will vanish anyway; but happiness fills the void."
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