Friday, March 23, 2007

The Black Book (thoughts)

I had very high hopes for Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book. First of all, I've been slightly obsessed with Turkey for a few years now. Second of all, the back of the book blurb sounded like it was right up my alley: A labyrinthine novel suffused with the sights, sounds, and scents of Istanbul, The Black Book is a boldly unconventional mystery and "a dazzling hall of mirrors meditation on identity, memory, and reality."

Furthermore, I was prepared for a meandering, barely-there plot. After all, I've read three of Umberto Eco's books and enjoyed them all, even Foucoult's Pendulum.

And yet, the book was painful. It took me more effort to read a chapter than to run five miles. That's saying something, considering that I'm not in the best of shape. The plotline wasn't looose so much as non-existent. It starts off strong, disappears for most of the time, and then reappears at the very end. Galip is an extremely annoying character, very maudlin and self-pitying. Ruya (his wife) seems more interesting, but we don't get to find out that much about her. Jelal, the columnist, is the most firmly sketched character, and fortunately I enjoyed him.

The book is set up so that almost every other chapter is one of Jelal's columns. I really enjoyed the columns: I read them all closely, and took pleasure in the play of ideas and words. So, actually, I'd probably give half of the book three or four stars. The problem is that you have to wade through the other half. With no plot and no characters, the one saving grace for that half could be the setting. However, I feel that this book was written for someone who already knew Istanbul: I certainly didn't get a good feeling for what Istanbul felt like. Pamuk gave a lot of very specific details, but he forgot to use broad brushstrokes to paint the backdrop first.

Thus, I was very disappointed by the book. I'm not sure if I'll read anything else by Pamuk: the column chapters were so good, it makes me believe he's a really good writer, but I wouldn't want to have to suffer through the other half ever again. Should you read it? That depends. In the Library Journal's review, it says that "only the stalwart will make it to the end." So, if you're stalwart, by all means go ahead.

I only had one favorite passage, but it was a good page and a half long, so I couldn't type it all out. It's at the end, and it's Galip describing his love for Ruya.

1 comment:

Sheri said...

Rats! That's too bad. It sucks reading the whole book doesn't have the same effect on your body as running does. Now, that would be cool!