Friday, July 6, 2012

Color Me Bored

Half way through My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, I was excited about it.  A murder had just been committed among artists illustrating a book in the 16th century.  The master artist and a new comer, Black, are charged by the Sultan with the task of discovering who the murderer is, within 3 days.  If they cannot determine who committed the killing, Black and the other artists will be tortured until one confesses.  That sounds pretty good, right?  And then the second half of the book began.

It is soon discovered that an earlier murder victim had died with drawings in his pocket, which he didn't draw.  Black and the master artist decide that the two murders must be connected, and that the way to find the murderer is to identify who made the drawing.  The problem is that it was the goal of Ottoman artists at that time to  avoid using any style which could identify them as being the artist of a particular work.  So, the master artist convinces Black that they must research books of art from the preceding several centuries in order to trace the murderer's influences.

At first, I thought that the story was becoming a 16th century Ottoman detective novel, and I liked the feel of that.  Soon though, the monotony of discussing the old drawings overpowered me.  I did trudge through the book, which I actually listened to on CD, because it wasn't until the 12th or 13th disc of 16 when I realized that this was no Encyclopedia Brown story.

It was interesting that the story was told from strange points of view, including that of a gold coin, a tree in a painting, and the color, red.  Each character introduces him or herself at the beginning of his or her chapter.  The human characters make multiple appearances, and carry the story along.

In Pamuk's later novel, Museum of Innocence, which I read before My Name is Red, Pamuk inserted himself, or at least a character with his name, as a wedding guest.  In Red, Pamuk names the most important female character "Shekure", which is the author's mother's name, and names her two sons "Orhan" and "Shevket."  Shevket is, of course, Pamuk's brother's real name. Shekure is complicated and scheming, albeit beautiful and devoted to her children, making me wonder if it is just the name, or the character herself, that Pamuk takes from his mother.  I would be interested to know if Pamuk always gives a character his name in his stories, but I'm not sure that I am interested enough to dive into another of his novels any time soon.

Pamuk's details about the style (or lack of style) in the work of the artists in the 16th century must have been painstakingly researched.  For instance, he explains how artists at that time thought that it was a sacrilege to paint a tree as being larger than the Sultan.  The Sultan is the most important figure in the painting, because he is closest to Allah, so he must be the biggest, and in the center.  The whole idea of perspective was scorned.  This information is crucial to the story as it explains why the artists were murdered, but I would have preferred the Cliffs Notes version.  The critics are on Pamuk's side, however.  My Name is Red was a NYT Notable Book for 2001, and won several  awards.   Additionally, Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature a few years after Red was translated to English. 

That's one more down for the Off the Shelf Challenge, and one more for the Support Your Library Challenge too, since I checked out the audio version from the library!  10 more to go.

Next up on CD:  The Russian Debutante's Handbook by Gary Shteyngart

Still reading:  Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris

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