Hallie's Reviews > Snow

Snow by Orhan Pamuk
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Dec 04, 13

Read in March, 2008

After finishing this book I felt virtuous, relieved. Then baffled, irritated, and finally dismissive. Other Good Reads reviewers express the desire to like this book, but proceed to be confused, bored, and insecure. Most wrap up with the dismal feeling that they didn’t GET it, and so didn’t succeed in really liking it. I felt the same, but in addition was supremely annoyed and turned off by it. I’m not so good at post-modern fiction to begin with, but I decided to leave my bias at the door because I had heard such great things about this author, and Pamuk didn’t seem like a bogus poser from what I’d read.
The story is about an expatriate Turkish poet named Ka who leads a solitary and arid life in Frankfurt and travels to a remote village in his homeland, ostensibly to investigate a spate of suicides by religious Muslim women protesting the injunction to remove their head scarves at school. He is really there to kindle a romance with a recently divorced woman he knew at university. The novel unfolds over three days when the snow has cut off the town from the outside world. What transpires is a coup led by a dysfunctional theater troupe, a lot of political intrigue, and much ball batting between secular and religious townspeople. Pamuk gives equal billing to every opinion, although they do not differ much in terms of their reductive, inflamed and binary natures, or in ability to capture my interest or sustained attention. This is in large part because the protagonist Ka is stunted,childish and infuriating himself, and the writing is both busy and detached. The political intrigue and opinions in Snow are not interesting or illuminating, as they do not emanate from fleshed-out people, but cardboard cut-outs spouting giant, densely packed and tedious word bubbles.
Inspiration strikes Ka while in Kars, and he stops to transcribe a series of nineteen poems, whenever they descend on him in perfectly realized form. Conveniently they get lost, but a conversation about them between Ka and his paramour goes like this:
“Is it beautiful?” he asked her a few moments later.
“Yes, it’s beautiful!” said Ipek.
Ka read a few more lines aloud and then asked her again, “Is it beautiful?”
“It’s beautiful,” Ipek replied.
When he finished reading the poem, he asked, “So what was it that made it beautiful?”
“I don’t know,” Ipek replied, “but I did find it beautiful.”
“Did Muhtar [her ex] ever read you a poem like this?”
“Never,” she said.
Ka began to read the poem aloud again, this time with growing force, but he still stopped at all the same places to ask, “Is it beautiful?” He also stopped at a few new places to say, “It really is very beautiful, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s very beautiful!” Ipek replied.
To my mind, only a child under ten should ever be indulged in this sort of megalomania, and then only by his mother, but Ka is nowhere punished, ridiculed or even chided for his insufferable personality, and in fact I think we are supposed to admire him as embodying the innocence, purity, pathos and single-mindedness that come with being a true artist.
Margaret Atwood says, in the New York Times Book Review “Not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times. [Pamuk is] narrating his country into being.” This seems to me the best case for why Snow won the Nobel Prize. The book makes Turkey legible, as well as digestible, to the West. The novel is chock a block with allusions to white western male institutions – Kafka, Coleridge, Mann, Nabokov (he wrote a lot of stuff in the west, anyway): an annoying and intrusive narrator, a novelist named Orhan, whose games of peek-a-boo get harder and harder to humor, an abysmal, abyssal usage of literary envelopes, a morose and misunderstood genius of a hero who falls desparately in love with a woman he obstinately refuses to lend more than one dimension – the sex scenes, incidentally, are some of the most unintentionally off-putting I have ever read, and recall the experience almost every woman has been unfortunate to undergo at least once, where she feels she might leave the room, go get some cheesecake and stand in the door frame watching her partner rythmically brutalizing a stack of pillows in laughable ignorance of her whereabouts or even existence. Afterwards our hero has the witlessness to add to the injury by calling this essentially masturbatory act “love-making”. In fact, this pretty much sums up my response to the whole book.




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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Carey (new)

Carey IS it good? I like Orphan Pamuk. review please!


Hallie I am not ready to review this book yet. So far the narrator gives me the willies, and I don't like Pamuk's writing style, it seems very busy. I will give a full report as soon as I have finished, which I will, because I have realized through Good Reads how many books I never finish and am determined to put a stop to this bad habit.


message 3: by Mom (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mom I just read Snow and your review was right on. So reassuring to know that someone else found these characters annoying and tedious, not to mention the self important political palavering. The whole thing would have been improved if the author had all these insufferable people shot in the theater during the coup.


message 4: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Your comparison of a certain type of "literary" writing to sex with someone for whom you might as well be a blow-up doll is both hilarious and stingingly accurate! I have frequently had the feeling with certain authors that the reader exists only to justify an otherwise masturbatory exercise (and lie afterward about enjoying it).

[Disclaimer before I start getting flamed: I haven't read Snow and am making a non-specific observation here!]


Karyn Love Mom's suggestion about having all the insufferable characters shot in the theatre during the coup. Would have improved the book immensely.


message 6: by Roanne (new) - added it

Roanne You said it all so much better than I ever could. Thank you.


message 7: by Chad (new)

Chad Sayban LOL, loved the review!


message 8: by LS (new)

LS Just signed onto Good Reads after a friend sent me this review ... Also just signed on to follow Hallie's reviews.


Kirk I got halfway through this and gave up. Writing good, plot bad.


message 10: by Rick (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rick Hoobler I'm not sure there is a plot. I kinda think that was partly the point. The green book was never found. Kars is basically unchanged. Ipek is still beguiling but cannot be had. I think we're supposed to feel badly and lost....in which case the book succeeds.


Deborah I am almost finished with this book and find this review far better than the book... which is tedious, redundant, and actually somewhat painful to read!


message 12: by Judy (new)

Judy Alexander A fabulously erudite review! Maybe Hallie should win the Nobel Prize.


message 13: by Quiltgranny (new)

Quiltgranny Thank you for your honest review. The examples you used really helped me to decide that this is one of those books that doesn't need to go on my list.


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