Novel Study: The Museum of Innocence (2009)

I finished reading Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence last night. It's taken me a while to read it, as Pamuk's unique brand of melancholy often coincides too acutely with my own, and I can only read a few chapters of his books at any given time before despair and ennui consume me entirely. This is not to say that the novel is a sad one; it isn't, really. It's just filled with the same kind of world-weary self-examination that pervades the works of such great philosophical novelists as Proust, Borges, and Garcia Marquez, among others.

The Museum of Innocence is the story of Kemal, a rich young man who seems set up for success. Reaching adulthood in the liberal Istanbul of the 1970s, he has lots of friends, a cushy job in his father's company, and a beautiful and clever fiancee. Not only that, but he also has a young mistress: Fusun, a distant relative who is a pretty 18-year-old shop-girl. At first, Kemal believes he can have it all, but slowly, things begin to unravel. When Fusun leaves him, Kemal becomes consumed with an obsessive love for her, one that destroys his prospects, but opens up a new way of being in the world.

Kemal begins to collect objects that remind him of the time he spent with Fusun; they are fetishistic in a real sense, in that when he touches them, he feels an erotic charge. But as the objects begin to accumulate, he realises that he is creating a collection that echoes far beyond his own doomed love affair.

The book moves at a snail's pace, and readers have to be prepared for long, meditative descriptions of the world Kemal inhabits. The ending, however, makes up for the patience invested beautifully, and will delight all museum studies students. There are wonderful passages that discuss the nature of time, the solace of objects, and the purpose of a museum.

The book's author, Orhan Pamuk, inserts himself into the narrative - he also delights in inter-textual tricks that refer to his other novels, as well as the novels of the authors he admires. Perhaps this will encourage some to read his other books, and enjoy them as much as I have.
"After all, isn't the purpose of the novel, or of a museum for that matter, to relate our memories with such sincerity as to transform individual happiness into a happiness all can share?"


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