Friday, May 25, 2012

Book review: The Museum of Innocence

The first 100 pages or so made me consider many times why I was reading the book at all (it came highly recommended) and why didn't Kemal bey just move-on. Why stay there? And moreover, why call it innocence when nothing could have been further away? Why color something purportedly black and white like carnal desires in shades of gray by waving brushes of grandeur on it? Why not just admit it for what it was, why not just smack the monkey, massage the seal, walk the cobra and then do something else?

However, by the time his first year of misery was over, I understood him better. His misery was not a choice. His misery was a way of life. His innocence was blindness and denial, but it still reeked of innocence. He lived in Turkey, he lived the life of a rich man, and though the poor there thought that wealth would cure them of their illnesses, he lived not very differently.


However, still some 500 pages deep, I have to admit that I pitied him. I empathized with him but I always had an inkling that I would never do that myself and I felt a smack of pride as I attributed that to common sense and rationality. I lived 8 years of his life walking down his streets, looking at things he looked at, feeling what he felt, and imbuing his very essence. I could foretell the turn the story would take. I shuddered and steeled myself when Kemal Bey asked for the keys of his Chevy in inebriated state and I read each of his ensuing actions with resignation. However, being aware of a few red herrings along the way, I was almost relaxed when the inevitable happened. Then I understood F├╝sun's point of view and it shook me to the core.

This was the second time (about 600 pages deep) I almost put the book down, feeling equally miffed at having foretold the events and at the cliche. And I would have been wrong.

I would have missed the playfulness of Orhan Pamuk, which is evident in the last few chapters (they are choking full of self-references and unnerving honestly). But, more importantly, I would have missed the last chapter, especially the last line, of the book. That was the redeeming feature of the book which makes it my first five star book of this year.

The last line of the book is a twist in the tail of a 700+ pages long reptile which otherwise moves in a pragmatically love smitten manner. It contends very strongly with the last line of Love in the time of cholera. LITTOC is also one of my favorite books and it would be unfair to pit it against a book which I have just finished reading a few minutes ago.

However, I will not hold back one comment comparing the two. Both books span enormous period of time and they describe very personal moments of very closely knit lives. That is where the similarity ends, though. The tragic love story in The Meuseum of Innocence is beautifully told. It manages to suffuse the mundane with innocence and awe and elevate them to paragons of tokens of love. This is a story about love. It is about the idea of love. How lovers suffered for it, and how they inadvertently made others suffer for it. On the other hand, Love in the time of Cholera is a story about lovers. The idea of love finds its place, but that is not what sits at the core of the book. The mundane stays mundane, there is no explicit symbolic meaning attached to anything; all interpretation is left for the readers. People have more vices and virtues, but none of them is granted any grandeur.

In the end, I'll remember both books almost in the same way: for their love, and lovers with The Meuseum of Innocence being a little more innocent and a little less choleric than Love in the time of Cholera.

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