Sunday, March 15, 2009

Book Critique (i): My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk


Oscar Wilde said art critique was the best of arts. Art was nothing but an excuse to produce art critique. And it is very true that, often, art critique is so much torn off from its subject, or object, that one can't recognize the object in the art critic's text.

It is like those professional comments on wine: it has a fruity flavor, a taste of honey and chestnuts, the aroma of antique oak from the cask gently caresses the palate and... and all those wine-critique clichés that no one ever really finds a justification for while drinking "the nectar of gods".

In the case of "My Name is Red" by Orhan Pamuk, some of the book-critic clichés are marvelously justified as one keeps on reading it, without a stop. And isn't "reading without stopping, from page one to end" the biggest cliché in book-critique?

The immediately catchy feature of the book is its narrating strategy (let´s call it this way). Each chapter, the narrator voice, perspective and being is changed from one character of the story to the other, from protagonist to co-adjuvant character, from man to woman, master to apprentice. And no one has godly-knowledge of the story, not even about its main stream of events. And all those characters invoke our attention and talk directly to us ("us" means the reader, I didn't mean "me", eventhough those heroes and culprits of course specially enjoy addressing myself).

Now, the book offers many layers or planes (what is exactly that word book-critics are so fond of?) to the reader (and if the book offered something to someone else but the reader, who would that be?). First, there is a crime, a murderer, and we are urged by the victim himself to find who the assassin is. Second, there is the love story. Then, there are many aesthetic, philosophical and even religious questions that keep on being raised as characters dialogue and reflect. For instance, what is the importance of an artist's personal style in rendering his art? Is art important in itself or only as a means for some religious objective?

Also, some east-west antagonism is addressed. And the customs and traditions of a part of the Islamic world - Istanbul, XVI century - are shown in detail. Indeed, the scenario making ability - the interiors, landscapes, the objects, the social panorama - of Orhan Pamuk is extremely caring and (here comes another cliché) rich.

Thus, it is the descriptions, it is the multiple languages from the many narrating characters, it is the different ways they narrate the portions and perspectives of the story they have witnessed, it is the story itself, it is all the philosophical inquiries that are kept alive, it is the mystery, it is even the eroticism - each of these, all of these aspects are enlivened at a level of a genius and the result is a magnificent (the book-critic can neither run nor hide from this one word, can he?) masterpiece (no comment about the use of this term).

Each and every element in "My Name is Red" is sublime. Among all those jewels, let me select my favorite: Shekure. I get wonderfully fascinated and wittily delighted while reading the chapters told by the main female protagonist of the story. Telling of love and houselife, conjecturing about crime and about men - all of these directly from the mouth and soul of an Islamic Instabulite woman, and not just an "ordinary woman", but a fascinating one - is absolutely marvelous.

But it is not only Shekure who strongly seduces us: it is the whole of the masterpiece and it is each of its elements, just like a beautiful picture (in a XVI century illuminated book?) which first completely captures our attention because of its unique hues and, then, drives it to ever finer and graceful details.

Oh! And what art does to us! I've even forgotten I have some rice to get made and eaten!


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