My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

pahmukMy Name is Red opens fairly early on with a murder, and the remainder of the five hundred or so odd pages is essentially a murder mystery set in the 16th century.  All of the primary characters are miniaturists – this was particularly appealing to me because I am a devoted admirer of miniature art.  Half of my pleasure in this novel was the rich trove of detail about the artists’ workshops and techniques – the way each artist’s work was so thororoughly marked by his personality.  The most interesting parallel plot describes the tangled love affair between a lovely and brave widowed mother-of-two named Shekure and Black, one of the artists.

The novel is unusually structured – the narrative adopts a different point of view (with multiple repetitions) in each mini-chapter.  Even inanimate objects are given their say.  This is certainly very entertaining.

Did I like the novel?  Yes, but not as much as everyone else apparently did.  The book has been hailed as a modern masterpiece, whereas I thought it merely an exceptionally nice fairy tale.  I note that at least one critic made quite a meal of the fact that the author, Orhan Pamuk, appears as as a character in the story.  Martin Amis did this twenty years before Pamuk did – in Money.  I don’t think that either Money or My Name is Red were significantly enhanced, or indeed affected in any significant way, by this innovation.

One of the most interesting questions of the novel is this:  what is the ideal of the artist?  Is it to create his own style and perfect it?  Or is it to obliterate himself in an effort to reach communion with the divivine?

The portrayal of Shekure was interesting.  On one hand, she is a mysterious, complex, intelligent and rather crafty character.  On the other hand, at what I would consider a critical point in her destiny, she seemed strangely preoccupied with the size of Black’s genitalia.  This suggests to me that Pamuk doesn’t know how to write women.

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