“…so many languages describe the condition I was in as “heartbreak”, let the broken porcelain heart I display here suffice to convey my plight at that moment to all who visit the museum.”
Kemal our narrator is a man from a wealthy family, he has everything going for him, he is engaged to the French educated Sibel from another wealthy family, he thinks of himself as modern and has what seems to be an unimportant affair with Füsun, a shopgirl and poor relative. Then Füsun disappears and Sibel breaks off the engagement. Kemal is plunged into a deep melancholy feeling a great loss for Füsun. Füsun reappears almost a year later, with a husband, a young but poor film screenwriter. Kemal humiliates and tortures himself by repeatedly visiting the newly weds and Füsun’s parents in their poor neighbourhood. Füsun’s husband thinks the visits are so that Kemal will finance an art film he wants to make with Füsun as the star.
Pico Iyer in the New York Review of Books, describes the novel as a “spacious love story a little like a Nabokovian version of Love in the Time of Cholera.” This is a tale of a man’s obsession for an impossible love, like I imagine Lolita, a book I have so far managed to avoid despite all the plaudits. I have read Love in the Time of Cholera and found the love obsession there a little implausible.
The museum of the title is a collection of artefacts related to Kemal’s doomed love affair with Füsun, hoping to evoke memories of the happy times he and Füsun abandoned themselves to carefree lovemaking in the mid seventies, a time when Istanbul was at the crossroads of entrenched conservatism and modern European ideas. The museum includes for example 4,213 of Füsun’s cigarette stubs, each dated, which is a little creepy, “each one of these has touched her rosy lips..” and each “bore the impress of her lips at some moment whose memory was laden with anguish or bliss“.
This is the only novel, I can remember that includes an index of characters. The characters include the author’s family.
I didn’t enjoy this as much as I enjoyed “Istanbul: Memories and the City” by Orhan Pamuk about the authors own reflections of his city.
Pamuk has created a real museum in Istanbul, it would be interesting to visit on my next trip to Istanbul.
My rating : 3 out of 5