Above all, this took me a loooong time to finish. Even when I was reading it steadily and thought I would just carry straight on through, it was slow going.
It’s not that hated it; or even that I didn’t like it. Nor, indeed. was the prose hard or complex. It just didn’t grab me; didn’t interest me that much. I didn’t, in the end, care that much about the characters or what happened to them. The character, really, since it’s mainly about the journalist and poet Ka.
In part, I think that’s because of the overall structure, and one or two narrative devices. It’s a third-person limited-omniscient narrative, focalised on Ka. Except it’s not: there’s a first-person narrator, a novelist called Pamuk, who is Ka’s friend, and is telling his story. He only appears directly in the novel twice, though.
So it starts out as Ka’s story, and eventually becomes a fragment of ‘Pamuk’s’. Along the way, though, while we are in the middle of the story of Ka’s few days in the Turkish border town of Kars, the end of his story is spoiled for us. It is literally spoilered, with a chapter in which is four years later, and ‘Pamuk’ is in Frankfurt, going through Ka’s things after the latter has been murdered.
We’re also told he doesn’t get the girl.
And then it’s back to the main story. And you expect me to care?
I’m not even sure you can call it a novel of character, for there, isn’t the character supposed to grow, develop, learn something? He certainly goes through various experiences, and probably does change; but I’m not sure that we can tell whether he has developed or grown, not least because we are robbed of any final scene with him, of anything on how he leaves Kars, of anything on his life afterwards. All that is only told to us as if second-hand, and in a very fragmentary, incomplete and unreliable form.
It’s partly a novel about Turkey, of course, about its stresses: the ‘headscarf girls’, who want to wear the Islamic garment to college, where it is banned; the epidemic of suicides of girls and young women which plagues Kars; the tension between the urges to democratic, religious and military rule. I certainly know more about (one person’s vision of) contemporary Turkey now than I did before I started.
But I can’t help but wonder: what was the point of it, really? Plot, character, great prose: two of them can sustain a novel; even any one of them, if it’s good enough. But this didn’t really have much of any of them.
Yet this guy has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, so he must be doing something right.
I just wish I knew what.