These are the first four, attention grabbing words that title the first chapter of Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, and my attention was well and truly grabbed.
My Dad bought this book for himself months and months ago and from the moment I saw the cover I was absolutely itching to discover it. I’m a true medievalist at heart and the thought of exploring the world of 16th century Istanbul through the eyes of its master-artists was a tantalizing prospect.
In reality, and I feel like such a heathen saying this, this book was hard work. We begin with the murder of one of the brightest stars of the Ottoman Empire, one the master miniaturists, killed whilst working on a controversial new book for the Sultan under the guidance of Enishte Effendi; a man tasked with managing the creation of this new masterpiece and heavily inspired by the techniques and styles emerging from the West, art that favours more realistic portrayals of perspective and individual people (seen as utter sacrilege to the Ottomans.) Enishte’s nephew, Black, arrives in town, keen to impress his Uncle and win the affections of his daughter Shekure, a beautiful young widow he has adored since childhood. Instead he finds himself thrust into the controversy surrounding this manuscript and the murder mystery that has arisen because of it.
I was hooked from the first chapter however by the fifth I knew that I was in for a slog, and by the tenth (out of 59 chapters!) I have to say…I couldn’t really have cared less who killed who and had to ensconce myself in the conservatory on Sunday evening with no phone and no boyfriend to fight to the final chapter (sorry Dad!)
I was really excited about this book and there are moments of true greatness here that betray a Nobel Prize winning author. The lengthy monologues on the nature of life, art, religion, death, the threat of the West and a whole host of heavy subjects are exquisite and the medium of art and colour the perfect way to begin these discussions. However, these monologues quite often felt like lectures and the subject matters incredibly repetitive, to the point where I had to force myself not to skim read paragraphs as this often felt like Groundhog Day à la Ottoman Empire.
There is also great beauty to be found in the first person perspective Pamuk writes from … seeing the world through the eyes of the people loving and living in Instanbul in the 16th century, and the constant change of perspective (particularly some very intriguing chapters written from the perspective of ‘a coin’ or ‘a tree’ etc) kept things flowing, and I appreciated the occasional glimpse of the more everyday, human aspects of life through the female characters of the tale. However, all of the characters, particularly the artists and murder suspects were quite similar and began to blur into one by the final chapters.
Although the ideas in this book are incredibly profound and some of the descriptions absolutely stunning, I just felt a little bored at times I’m afraid. You’re a special writer Orhan Pamuk, but not for Literary Relish at this moment in time, perhaps I’ll revisit you when I’ve grown up a bit.