Top critical review
needs better editing
on 20 October 2014
Initially, I was entranced by this novel. The style is instantly elegant and imaginative, and promises a close acquaintance with the city of Istanbul which my deep reading in Roman and Byzantine history made to seem very promising. The best descriptions of fashionable living in the future give off pleasurable echoes of Ian M Banks. But I have struggled to get through it. It is certainly a good book, but it does in my view have problems.
First, the structural conceit, of the stories of half a dozen people who live in the Dervish House of the title, is flawed by the wide differences between them: otherwise than in, say, The Yacoubian Building, the situations and characters described here are extraordinarily diverse and there is insufficient link between them in the course of their stories for the reader to feel that the unexpected and seemingly arbitrary shifts from one point of view to another are worth his or her effort. It is hard to develop a real sympathy for the characters, and if one puts the book down for more than a couple of days it becomes laborious to pick up the threads of the plot again.
Second, the style rapidly cloys. The action and description is held up by too much, often repetitive, detail. The consistent use of the historic present satiates after a while and feels mannered. The trick of leaving many Turkish words untranslated (some of them, apparently, coinages of the author’s) starts as giving a feel of authenticity, but is over-indulged and soon starts to feel affected, obstructive and pretentious. The register used is British, but there are also for no reason glaring Americanisms, from the misleading “pants” for trousers, to the baffling “dumpster”.
Fundamentally, at 472 pages the book is far, far too long and too self-indulgent: a good editor should have been used, and should have reduced the work by a half to a third.