June 21, 2011


The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
reviewed by Courtney

Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist, is largely known for the controversy surrounding remarks he made acknowledging the Turkish Armenian genocide, which led to an extended trial by Turkish nationalists and stirred international outrage and support. Though the charges were later dropped, Pamuk is still a controversial literary figure, and his work often reflects his political and cultural considerations. Pamuk's 2009 novel, The Museum of Innocence is less politically oriented than some of his others, focusing on the 30-year long love affair of Kemal, a successful businessman and Füsun, a lower class shop girl and aspiring actress.

Kemal and Füsun's relationship is restricted by their cultural situations; Kemal is engaged to a woman of his own social class and is unwilling to give up that connection. As their affair continues, Kemal's unrequited love and obsession with Füsun becomes outright objectification. He collects the various small objects and artifacts of their relationship, constructing a kind of museum of their time together.

The Museum of Innocence is interesting in its presentation of Kemal's objectification of Füsun, and the overwhelming societal rejection of Füsun's agency as a subject. Much of Pamuk's earlier work also uses its female characters as pure objects; they almost impressionistically embody the conflicting ideals and desires of male protagonists. Pamuk's clear exploration of the societal objectification of Füsun echoes this theme of romantic objectification.

As with Pamuk's other work, the novel is complicated by extensive layering of inter-textual references and metafictional technique. As Kemal builds his museum of Füsun, Pamuk interweaves information about the culture of collecting and museums more generally, and the endurance of the human urge to collect and hoard objects as a physical manifestation of greater non-physical concepts like love, history, and artistic creation. The value of objects like those Kemal collects, those in museums like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or the preserved sites of historical events comes from this intangible signification of a subject by a related object, and The Museum of Innocence is a fascinating exploration of the way that for a collector the object can come to eclipse its related subject.

The novel is constructed almost like a museum itself, and includes a ticket to an actual museum Pamuk intends to open to accompany the book. The idea is that the physical exhibit would mirror that presented in the novel. The Museum of Innocence is impressively ambitious, and the physicality of the intended museum is reminiscent of Pamuk's previous genre-bending works, such as the miniature painting and visual art of My Name Is Red or the book within a book of The New Life. Ultimately The Museum of Innocence is not Pamuk's best work, but it may be his most ambitious. The length and repetitiveness of the narrative may be off-putting for those unfamiliar with his work, who would be better off starting with the more approachable historical fiction of The White Castle or my personal favorite, The Black Book. For fans of Pamuk, however, The Museum of Innocence indicates his continuing importance and growth as a modern writer.

Posted by at June 21, 2011 02:01 PM
Recent Entries
The Donovan Effect
Dirty Water
The Lifeboat
Escaping the Hollowgasts
Teleporting with George
Return to Pemberley
In den Alpen
Jeeves and Bertie
In the Calais Coach
Other Web Logs
Children's Room
Teen Book Buzz
August 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
April 2014
February 2014
January 2014
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
May 2013
March 2013
January 2013
November 2012
October 2012
August 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
February 2012
January 2012
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
February 2011
January 2011
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
April 2009
March 2009
December 2008
October 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
July 2004
June 2004
April 2004
Call the desk at 301-891-7259
Contact the director by e-mail