Why she left

garden-table

I’m a slow reader so it’s taken me 40 pages to get really hooked by Orhan Pamuk’s The Black Book. First there were all the different Turkish names and characters to get used to. Who’s Galip again? Is he married to Rüya? I have enough difficulty with P’s friends and spouses and children so a whole cast of Turkish characters was always going to be a challenge.

But now that I’ve arrived at the central plot I can relax into the story. Basically, Galip’s wife has left him. Gone. Disappeared with nothing more than a 19-word farewell letter. As the blurb says:

Could she have left him for her ex-husband, Celál, a popular newspaper columnist? But Celál, too, seems to have vanished. As Galip investigates, he finds himself assuming the enviable Celál’s identity, wearing his clothes, answering his phone calls, even writing his columns …

I also have to agree with the blurb-writer that Pamuk’s novel is “a cascade of beguiling stories about Istanbul”. The style is clever too and I like the way he intersperses the story with Celál’s entertaining (and intricately told) columns. I’ve just read the one about Alaaddin’s shop and I loved the way it enabled him to provide wry commentary on such a wide spectrum of Istanbul’s population.

For me there are also echoes of Tim Winton’s The Riders (in which Scully tries in vain to work out why his wife never arrives at their new home in Ireland). It’s a powerful question: who do women (and people generally) leave? As someone who’s been both a leaver and a leave, it’s a poignant mystery which involves suitable soul-searching. I’m guessing that Galip’s story will become a detective story to find the mysterious Rüya but I’m enjoying the psychological side of it. I’ll keep you posted. One quote:

He took comfort in the promise Rüya made next: it too was four words: I’ll be in touch. He sat up all night, waiting in vain.
All night, the radiators and water pipes groaned, gurgled and sighed. There were flurries of snow. The boza seller wandered past at one point, hawking his millet drinks, but he never came back. For hours on end, Galip and Rüya’s green signature stared at each other …

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6 Responses to Why she left

  1. bloglily says:

    I really like the sound of this! It’s the “cascade of beguiling stories about Istanbul” that does it, I’m pretty sure. Was this one of those books you felt like you “ought” to be reading? (I’m seem to recall you saying that, but I’m too lazy to check back). If so, I’m glad to hear that, forty pages in, it became a pleasure rather than a duty.

  2. Sounds good. I’ll put it on my list.

  3. adevotedreader says:

    This is in my TBR pile, so I’m glad to see you reading and writing about it Pete. it might get me to actually pick it up, as it sounds intriguing.

  4. litlove says:

    I loved this because it is such a psychologically astute book. I could have written an essay on every one of Celal’s newspaper columns, I felt. Better not expect too much relaxing into the story though, Pete. It’s a complicated read and best taken in small bites, I found. But it is hugely, hugely worth it.

  5. Pete says:

    Lily – Yes, it started out as both a delight and an ought. Litlove’s right that it’s best tackled in small doses though. Not an easy, relaxing read (but a rich and rewarding one).

    Lilian – I think you’ll enjoy it. Am also interested to hear more about what you’re reading. I read a great review of The River Midnight by the way so am very intrigued to read more.

    Sarah / devoted – Will be interested to hear what you make of it. Turkey is such a fascinating mix and with such a rich history that one can’t help but be a bit beguiled.

    Litlove – Thanks for the words of caution! Yes, the complexity of it does make it better in small doses. Not a relaxing plotline but a rich and rewarding read.

  6. Emily Barton says:

    Well, you’ve definitely intrigued me, and like Bloglily, you especially grabbed me with the Istanbul line (made me think of Calvino’s Invisible Cities).

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