The Museum of Innocence
After finishing "The Museum of Innocence," I found myself in need to talk about it. I wanted my friends to know about this, but I wanted them to know about it slowly, in small drips, and tiny pieces.
Orhan Pamuk is such a master story-teller. He didn't just give you a relief from this journey. He took you to another path. A heroic one. A path that only a mad person would take. Well, mad or brave. Or simply in love!
Reading this book was not all a joyride. There were moments, when obsession really caught Kemal, whom later I called a friend just because I know so much about him, that I wanted to slap him in the face and say "Wake up! Enough already! Stop being this pathetic and get a life, man!" Of course, he didn't do that. I almost stopped reading at this point. That is how rich and heavy Pamuk can describe obsession.
It begins promisingly enough with a love triangle between Kemal, the young heir of one of Istanbul’s wealthiest family, Sibel, his Sorbonne-educated fiancée, and Fusun, a poor, distant relation who happens to be a nubile 18 year-old beauty contest finalist. Their illicit romance, consummated in an empty apartment filled with his mother’s abandoned possessions , slowly consumes Kemal’s life, and yet he still clings to Sibel, who is not only understanding but is also willing to nurse him through lovesickness for her rival. This earlier part of the novel is quite compelling, although the eroticism occasionally drifts towards the graphically icky territory (“As our kisses grew even longer, a honeyed pool of warm saliva gathered in the great cave that was our mouths combined, sometimes leaking a little down our chins…”). Actually, this kind of relationship is traditionally inappropriate. However, as Sibel finally gives up on her crooked fiancée and Fusun contracts a reputation-saving shotgun marriage to an aspiring screenwriter, Kemal (and the narrative) becomes stuck down in a mire of repetitive, increasingly self-indulgent ruminations. This part depicts eight years of the characters’ lives in which the following happens:
1. Kemal hangs out with Fusun, her husband, and her parents;
2. while with her, he is surpassingly moved by some gesture or words from his beloved(Fusun);
3. he takes (“collects”) things that remind him of such moments, such as the soda bottle that she drank from, the saltshaker that she used during dinner, the ceramic dog figurine that sat on top of her TV, cigarette butts (all 4,213 of them, meticulously classified according to how they were crushed) combs,etc. He then carefully stores these items in the empty apartment and sometimes mouths them when he misses her;
4. he makes feeble, half-hearted attempts at producing a movie in which she is going to star in, but is eventually too repulsed by the notion that she will have to do a kissing scene or worse, be pawed over by actors and directors that he never goes through with it;
5. Fusun has the pouts and the sulks;
6. Kemal is devastated and disappointed;
7. Repeat and repeat.
This goes on for hundreds of pages. There is a chapter titled ‘Sometimes’ (in which every sentence begins with that word) which contains nothing but random fragments of their daily life. It is cute for one or two pages, but it is exhausting as a chapter-length exercise.
began to scan the pages. How long is this thing going to be on?
Then the story took its turn and the mood was changing. I was tired and exhausted. I read a review somewhere that the love would not end happily as in fairy tales. Somehow tragic love story is more worth writing, so they say. So, I didn't have much hope for the bright light at the end of the tunnel. I just wanted to complete the journey. I was prepared for the worst.
AND THEN suddenly there was a twist in the story and it became good, really good. I couldn’t stop reading and hoping. I forgave Kemal for being a borderline creep with his ‘collecting’ and I forgave Fusun for being so wrapped up in her acting ambition. I wanted them to drive away into the sunset in Kemal’s ’56 Chevrolet and live happily ever after in a Turkish dreamland.
And it all ends in a sigh a big sigh.
And suddenly you understand everything: the years of waiting, the lifetime of remembering, the significance of mundane things, the obsession with collecting, and why there is a need for so many museums in this world.
“In poetically well-built museums, formed from the heart’s compulsions, we are consoled not by finding in them old objects that we love, but by losing sense of Time.”
And there, I realized that all along the way, this was the story Pamuk intended to tell. In other words;
First, Fusun's love represents this obsession with the past, this timeless nostalgia.
Secondly, the character of Sibel represents the modernity.
No wonder Fusun's world ends up in a museum, or as Pamuk writes: "...if objects that bring us shame are displayed in a museum, they are immediately transformed into possessions in which to take pride."
The Museum of Innocence is a complex novel, beautifully written, full of intriguing and thought provoking twists and turns, and I would definitely recommend it to every book lover.