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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
The Museum of Innocence
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on 11 October 2012
Orhan Pamuk,
The Museum of Innocence

It is both easy and difficult to talk about this intriguing novel by the recent Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature - a prize of course awarded for lifetime achievement rather than for a particular book. The easy part is to tell the plot, which usually in my experience takes up at least half of a review. The difficult part is to convey the quality of one's reading experience. So, to the plot, briefly:

Kemal, who tells the story - later we discover his story is ghost-written by a friend - is a wealthy businessman who falls in love with a poor shopgirl, one who has recently come third in a beauty contest. Unfortunately, he is engaged to an aristocratic girl to whom marriage for familial and business reasons would be more suitable. So far, so trite, but this is not Jane Austen all over again; this is romance, writ large to the nth degree. For Kemal is an obsessive; he not only cannot detach himself from Füsan the shopgirl, but can think of nothing else. All through the period of his engagement and, later, his marriage to Sibel, Kemal collects memorabilia associated with his beloved. This collection of sacred relics begins with a lost ear-ring and ends with a museum.

What is remarkable about this everyday story of an infatuated lover is the revelation of an interior world, where recalled scenes and images are as life-sustaining as the memorabilia he treasures. Cigarette butts with Füsan's lipstick on and stolen kitchen equipment are but two of the thousands of his objets d'art. Each item brings back a time and place where he loved and suffered in the past. He polishes them or kisses them in his mother's apartment where he sets up his shrine. His fling with Füsan took but a short time, but it remains with him for life. Of course, he occasionally asks himself what good this `love' does him or anyone else. The answer is not a scrap - the reverse in fact. But he can't help himself; the drug will never leave his system, and if it did do so by a miracle, the reader feels the poor man would not survive.

The claustrophobic setting is Istanbul in the 1970s and beyond. The streets are narrow and crowded and the heat suffocating. Kemal names every street along which he has passed, dreaming of the beloved or remembering his later suffering. He presents the reader with a map, highlighting important features, and, to complete his encyclopaedia of folly he appends to a 700+ page novel a paginated index of all the characters mentioned.

What I loved most about this Proustian novel was the privileged view I was given of another consciousness, a madman one might say, a self-destructive obsessive, one who sacrifices everything for a dream, a no doubt selfish illusion about a fairly unexceptional girl. Except that we are made to realise that nobody is unexceptional, that the other characters whom Kemal damages are alive and immortalised in the book, just as his treasures are enshrined in his museum. We feel sympathy for them, even those who are hostile to him.
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on 27 August 2017
The start is truly exciting. Then the story slows down to absolutely unbelievable speed. I did not finish reading it at the end.
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on 8 October 2017
Magnificient evocation of a complex love affair.
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on 18 October 2017
Excellent condition
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on 11 April 2017
This book is magnificent. Yes, it might not move at the quickest pace in the second half, but really...that's part of the point. Reading other reviews I found it a little sad to see how they had missed so much of the depth of what this novel achieves. Should you like the characters? Can you know Fusun? Can you be drawn in to watch a life slowly ebb away? Do objects present more power of memory and emotion than people? What is the detritus of this life--things or love or what?? These are not exactly questions to be answered, but rather those that Pamuk challenges us to immerse ourselves deep into, with our head firmly under the water, as we swim endlessly into this vast, slowly unfurling immensely haunting creation.
It's a very subtle novel, so I agree that it might not be everyone's cup of tea. But it offers much if you want to move beyond reading about the highlights of life,and meditating on the mundane that makes existence. A book that will stay with me for years to come...
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on 26 March 2017
I really tried to like this book, it is well written, but nothing happens.
Eventually gave up after around 400 pages.
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on 26 May 2014
I like long books: Dickens, John Cowper Powys. Something you can really get your teeth into. A book that lasts, that becomes something of a bible. This one really tried my patience. In the second half I found myself doing what I had to do in college to so many chunky Victorian novels because of the pressure of time, speed reading. I have read many of Pamuk’s novels because I find Istanbul, its politics and history intriguing. This book reminds me of the music of the seventies, prog rock solos which were over indulgent and went on far too long. As other reviewers have commented, the first half of the book is interesting and draws you in as the main strands of the plot unfold but then it becomes too predictable and the tragic ending is sign posted and inevitable. The main problem is one cannot sympathise with the characters and if you don’t care about them then there is not much point in reading any book. Kemal is childish in his obsessions and Fusin seems flighty and superficial. I welcomed the ending! I would like to compare Pamuk with Carlos Luis Zafon, another writer who sets his novels in an important capital city, Barcelona. But the characters, plot lines and sense of humour put The Angel’s Games and Shadow of the Wind amongst others on a completely superior level; books which I will keep and reread because of the myriad layers and intricate plotting. For a book to be as long as this one there simply has to be more going on, more development of character. Kemal is one of the least attractive main characters in any book I have read. And for this reason the The Museum of Innocence is doomed to failure.
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on 11 February 2016
I’m going to Istanbul later this year and a friend said ‘you must read Orhan Pamuk’. Another friend mentioned The Museum of Innocence – the novel and the museum. I was intrigued. The book comes in at 733 pages including the index. Of course it is unusual for a work of fiction to have an index but this is no ordinary work of fiction. Reading it, for me, became a war of wills. Almost every time I picked it up, I felt irritable and tetchy knowing I was hooked. I have never felt such swings of emotion whilst reading a book. I vowed to stop reading it countless times, so maddened did I become, but also knowing that I had developed a strange, almost nauseous condition which drew me to the book every time I vowed to stay away. I could do nothing else but read. I became as addicted as the main character Kemal Bey had become in his obsessive intoxication with the woman Füsan who comes to dominate his every waking hour. I read the book in less than a week – unusual for me to read something so long, so fast. After I became interested in my extreme reaction to the book, I started to surmise and develop my own theories as to what the writer was talking about. On the surface – a simple story of an obsession. In another reading, a meditation on the position of women in Turkish society – contemporary and traditional. This then became a contemplation on the position of women the world over. Then I became convinced it was a metaphor for something else entirely – nothing to do with gender. At other times…was he speaking about his infatuation with Istanbul, his troubled relationship with Turkey. It was all possible and probable.

The hero, a difficult companion to spend such a long time with never became likeable. I found myself revolted by him whilst also pitying his condition. I even began to admire his steady, unwavering patience as he waited out the years in order to be re-united with his great love – the woman who all of Istanbul would have been in love with had they been lucky or unlucky enough to fall for. The heroine herself never becomes knowable in all 733 pages. She is object, idol, child, woman to be pitied, complex and unreadable but never thankfully, simply a seductress. She is uncategorizable. The not-knowing, the desire for certainty keeps you reading. Every event, every piece of news, every novelistic detail becomes enslaved to the worshipping of Füsan, yet as a human being, as an active agent of her own life she is completely absent. She controls everything but is completely disempowered in her own life. The book is a tragedy. Not on the grand scale of War and Peace but of the domestic, the suburban, the everyday. And that makes it perhaps even more a tragedy. The sphere of life of the main characters as the story develops becomes smaller and smaller until their stage becomes a small dining room table in a modest apartment in an uninspiring part of Istanbul. Years are spent in the waiting. As the central characters become more cut off from the world, they get no closer to one another. The museum of the title is populated by the everyday objects Füsan comes into contact with. In the end, Kemal Bey finds his happiness not in his love but in the objects he has stolen to remind him of Füsan – a saltshaker, an earing, a button, a cigarette butt. She becomes more real and permanent the more complete the collection becomes. In the final pages, Kemal Bey is the final object to become part of the Museum of Innocence. A chilling book. Never could I say a beautiful book. A portrait of obsession. It should come with a warning. Beware – you will become addicted. You will, dear reader yourself become another object within the Museum of Innocence. And of course, you cannot leave the idea alone that after reading the book, you, yourself must pay a visit to Istanbul, to stand in the museum and like Kemal Bey surround yourself with the objects of Füsan’s tragic life. You, I, become part of the ongoing collection. We might even need to begin our own personal museums. Every future object we touch becomes a potential candidate for our own Museum of Innocence. The book is a living phenomena, it keeps growing. We are destined to all become part of the collection. The Museum of Innocence is my first Orhan Pamuk book. There will be more….
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on 24 November 2010
This is an over-long tale of obsession, partially redeemed by Istanbul's evocative place names, which occur liberally throughout the text, lending it an exotic flavour. Superficially, it is about a man who falls in love with a beautiful shop assistant. Unfortunately, although she reciprocates, it is a flawed kind of love; it is the love of the addict for his drug, selfish and self destructive, and may cause him to lose everything, if he does not find salvation from somewhere. Transformed by his obsession, his life is going nowhere, slowly; and the slowness of the narrative seems to emphasise this.

The book has plenty to say about the cultural tension between permissiveness and traditional values in Istanbul's middle classes. These influence the characters' behaviour in no small way. From that point of view it is interesting and insightful; but ultimately it is just too long. This book may appeal to you if you are interested in Istanbul, or in clashes between cultures, or in the dangers of unhealthy obsessions. Avoid it if you dislike slow moving, introspective novels.
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on 20 May 2011
The Museum Of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk presents what might appear to be a daunting challenge. It runs to more than 500 pages and a flick through the text reveals scant use of dialogue. It all looks very dense. There is also the added challenge of knowing that the novel is set in an unfamiliar cultural landscape, underpinned by assumptions we may not share, assumptions that we may not even recognise.

But no reader need be daunted. I read it - and even re-read some sections - in less than two days. Rarely have I been drawn by a writer inside a character in the way that Orhan Pamuk invited me to become Kemal Bey. The book is a perfect example of a work that tells you nothing, but takes you all the way there.

Kemal is a rich young man at the start of the book's recollected but largely linear story. It is 1975. Kemal has returned from business school in the USA and has taken up a perhaps assured position in Satsat, literally Sell-Sell, his family's distribution and export company. It's a successful company, making money hand over fist, and provides its owners with both status and wealth. Kemal is part of Istanbul's, even Turkey's elite, a rich man even among the rich. He can have what he wants. His life is on a flat track in the fast lane from the start. He is close to engagement and marriage to Sibel, a beautiful woman he loves.

And then one day Kemal visits a shop to buy his girlfriend a present. He recognises the girl who serves him as the daughter of a distant relation, a woman he used to call Aunt Nesibe. There was no direct blood tie, perhaps, but ties with this poorer branch of the family were stronger when Kemal was young. Hence he remembers the shop girl who serves him as Füsun, Aunt Nesibe's daughter. She is just 18, has bleached hair in the modern style and promises an imminent and full bloom of womanhood. Kemal is transfixed and from that moment on his life is changed.

The Museum Of Innocence - at least in part - is a novel about obsession. Kemal wants to possess, to own every aspect of Füsun. He yearns for her body - that might be taken for granted - but he also wants to absorb her, in some ways to become part of her. For him she is a Madonna, a sex object, a future wife, an analyst, a support and a superstar all in one slight, beautiful frame. He changes every aspect of his life so that it fits the shape she projects merely so that he can metaphorically and literally wrap himself around her. In one of their encounters, she loses a monogrammed earring. Kemal finds it, but doesn't return it. And so this earring becomes the first of many things associated with Füsun that Kemal collects. Eventually these thousands of artefacts become the exhibits in his museum dedicated to her, Kemal's museum of innocence.

But Orham Pamuk's writing is never merely one-layered. In The Museum of Innocence he takes us on a tour of Istanbul's high society and culture. We experience - not just observe - clashes of culture, tradition versus modernity, family versus individuality, responsibility versus interest. Events that made Turkish history of the period affect everyone's lives. Political and economic change go hand in hand, though sometimes the hands are fists.

We meet Zaim, for instance, whose company makes Meltem, Turkey's favourite domestically-made soft drink. But as the years pass, can his brand compete with Coke and Pepsi? And if so, what tactic should it employ to find its market? Should it use Western advertising methods? Kemal also meets Feridun, a budding film director who, via various mechanisms eventually persuades Kemal to finance a film company as a joint venture. Lemon Film's first offering is hammered by the urban critics, but poor communities throughout Anatolia can identify with its traditional message and so it becomes a capitalist hit. Kemal has success is almost every aspect of his life but not, it seems, in love, a subject he confines to his museum. He becomes, incidentally, a compulsive museum visitor!

A review of The Museum Of Innocence cannot begin to offer a flavour of the entire book. Its canvas is too broad, its achievement too great, its success too complete. Obsession is the key word, however, and Orhan Pamuk manages to draw the willing reader into Kemal's psyche, so that his tunnel vision becomes an obsession for the reader. We see his world through his eyes, and thus feel what he feels. Perhaps we even empathise. Looking back, The Museum Of Innocence, like life itself, is not such a long journey after all.
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