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