Memory Lane

D39a4c40-8515-11e1-a3c5-00144feab49aMaya Jaggi on Orhan Pamuk's museum of innocence’, in the FT Magazine:

In a dark-red Ottoman town house in Istanbul’s antiques district, a fast-gentrifying quarter where brassware spills on to steep, cobbled lanes, an idiosyncratic museum has been taking shape. The first display as you enter is an entire wall spiked with evenly spaced cigarette butts – testament to the prolonged agony of a man who furtively saved 4,213 of his beloved’s fag ends after she married someone else. Yet “the word ‘obsession’ is discouraged”, says the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, as he supervises the final touches to his Museum of Innocence.

Pamuk, an artist manqué, studied architecture but switched to novel writing aged 23. His “sentimental museum” was conceived in the mid-1990s as a counterpart to his eighth novel, The Museum of Innocence (2008) – published after he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2006. Like the author, its hero Kemal is born into Istanbul’s well-heeled bourgeoisie. But after an affair with Fusun, a beautiful shopgirl and a distant poor relation, Kemal breaks off a society engagement to try to win her back. The story has the contours of Turkish television melodrama (Pamuk had a stint writing scripts in the 1980s). But the pain is real in a novel that, like much of Pamuk’s fiction, probes the anxieties and inauthenticity of living in what feels like a backwater while imitating a westernised modernity. Kemal’s beloved dies, and – unable to find peace – he builds a museum from the objects she touched, as Pamuk gathered memorabilia to inspire the narrative.