21 May 2011

The White Castle, by Orhan Pamuk

I suspect that the only way I can read Pamuk's books is quickly. If it takes me more than a day, I will probably get bored and quit. The thing is, there's something grindingly monotonous about his prose. I have a really hard time with it. It seems utterly flat, and I find myself really alienated from the story. I tried reading The New Life awhile ago and gave up, and was kind of ready to give up on Pamuk altogether. But I'm scouting books for a class I'm teaching this summer, and this one was recommended to me, so I figured I'd give him another try. Luckily, the book was on 24 hour reserve at the library, so I was forced to get through it quickly. And as it turned out, by the end I did find the story incredibly compelling, and it sort of changed the way I perceived the entire book (I had the same experience with Michel Houellebecq's Elementary Particles).

The novel is the story of an Italian who is taken captive by Turks, and ultimately becomes the property of a man he called Hoja (master). Mysteriously, he and Hoja look so much alike as to be twins. This is an important underlying aspect of the novel - you could even say it's the point of the book - and perhaps this is what makes Pamuk so difficult, is that while it comes up frequently, it's almost in passing. In so many scenes, the ostensible focus is something that is almost palpably uninteresting, and meanwhile there are a few scattered sentences that imply that the real point is just under the surface. It makes the prose seem incredibly dense, as though you needed to read it at least twice, and slowly, to actually understand what's going on. And you can't help but wonder if there actually is something going on, or whether it adds up to anything coherent. I think one would need to achieve the perfect balance of pace in reading this book to get the full benefit; fast enough that you don't lose interest, but slow enough that you can actually absorb it.

So the jury is still out on Pamuk, as far as I'm concerned. I did ultimately find this book rewarding, but I'm still skeptical. I'm planning to read Snow soon, so we'll see how I feel after that.

1 comment:

gusDon said...

Pamuk's books are always begging the question, but if we focus we can accept it mean in the end ...
Good book, I think!