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 …