Monday, November 7

Considering Orhan Pamuk's "My Name is Red"

My Name is Red was a disappointment. Perhaps I am unfair to it as I came to it in a rush from Snow, a novel which I read just because I needed something, anything in Mangochi, but when Snow seriously challenges for one of the best things I have read since leaving university, I think it is fair to have some expectations.

Unsurprisingly, Red suffers in comparison. It's an odd thing to write because the two novels are so much similar. A young man, driven by memories of the woman he loves, returns to his home city after years abroad. The beloved, who had married but is now separated from her husband, lives with her father and at first rebuffs the protagonist. There are deaths in the community which the protagonist must investigate. In the course of the investigations, the protagonist meets with those more interested in discussing religion and art in the abstract and the European influence on Turkey. Stylistic techniques such as the doubling of characters, narration by pictures and authorial insertion abound. Really, Snow and Red are the same book for the first half, switching Snow's modern setting and interest in Islam for Red's classic setting and interest in art.

The difference is that things happen in Snow. A night at the theatre falls into terror when the rifles are not loaded with blanks but live bullets. The town is isolated by a blizzard and military coup takes control of it. It all builds to a second night at the theatre. The monologues remain, and the speed of the action can only be described as plodding, but there is always a sense that it is building to something, that something is going to happen.

Red touches that same live wire at its best such as the chapters where plans are made for a wedding that must be conducted at all speed and navigate any number of legal and cultural obstacles, but in between there is a visit to the sultan's archives where chapters are spent describing each and every illuminated page the protagonist sees. Even when the suspects begin to arm themselves to confront the still-unknown murderer, scenes where the suspense and tension should be at their highest, seem perfunctory and the author ultimately uninterested in them as so little time is spent on them in comparison to those ceaseless descriptions of masterful illustrations.

Where Snow seemed to be exactly the right length, Red feels that it would lose nothing by being half the size, hacking away at the redundant descriptions that crop up in every chapter.

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