A true love never comes about easy. Orhan Pamuk has made it clear in his several novels, but here, in The Museum of Innocence, he seems to assert it more that anything can be obstacles, even a hypocritical society in which the love story happens. First published in 2008, The Museum of Innocence bears testimony to Pamuk’s skillful adept in blending his personal, adamant perspective on the modern Turkish society with a tale of unconditional yet implausible love. But unlike his other similar works, The Museum of Innocence has a higher proportion of a love saga as it turns out to be the core of the whole book.
The beginning of the story sees the life of Kemal Bey, a rich man running his father’s large business, where luxury and Western life style are inseparable parts of his surroundings. One day, he happens to meet his distant relative, Füsun, with whom he has acquaintance back in his childhood. Despite already having been soon to be engaged to Sibel, Kemal falls crazily in love with Füsun, who is much younger than he is. Lust, I’d rather say, is what first binds them together, although it then blazes up into strong love for each other with every secret encounter and lovemaking they have. Kemal is so deeply in love with Füsun that he dares to break off his engagement to Sibel, agonizes over Füsun’s leaving him, and pulls himself free of the society, his own family, and the world.
Sometime later, they meet again but Füsun is already married to another man. Never thinking of giving up, Kemal goes back to court her discreetly, having supper together and offering her an opportunity to become an actress she has been dreaming of for so long. Eight years, and Kemal never stops waiting and never surrenders his obsession and patience. But when Füsun’s marriage ends in divorce and they can finally plan their future together, that’s the point where the long wait has to stop.
Kemal is a picture of a bored member of the modern, glamorous Istanbul society in which everything is fake. He may seem like any other rich men we know, successful, rewarded with a beautiful, high-class fiancée, but deep down he is screaming in distaste. He is stubborn in nature, that’s why he refuses to be dictated by the pale imitation of a Western society and dares to leave the social world he’s been living almost his entire life to be with Füsun. His persistence brings him to willing to do everything for love, even though Füsun’s selfishness makes all his efforts in vain. She can be described as a naive, innocent, hapless girl, but her terribly unbearable weakness feels like a pain in the neck to me. Living in a more traditional, and poor, family, it may seem proportionally rational to have her rather passive in their pursuit of happiness. But still I cannot erase the idea in my mind that she doesn’t love Kemal enough to try hard. Easy or not, their love story is not one to run smoothly with that kind of attitude of hers.
Pamuk has channeled his feelings and understanding of the Westernization of the modern Turkey into many kinds of stories, into many intriguing embodiments of ideas, but never before has he channeled those things in his mind entirely into a love story. Through the love journey Kemal and Füsun take, Pamuk depicts ever so clearly the fake, modern, glamorous life in Istanbul with its fake branded products and fake respectable behavior and fake “Western” society. No one in The Museum of Innocence is portrayed as an honest person, even Kemal. They are all sadly hypocritical and empty, have no depth whatsoever. Once again, to them, the modern Turkish society, Westernization is the only way to get away from the shadow of the fall of the old Ottoman Empire and sneak into the prosperous European world. All these views would have been fabulously better written had Pamuk known where to stop his lines. If I have to choose one particular adjective to describe the way Pamuk telling this story, it’s boring. I know, reading Pamuk’s works had always been a challenge for me for their long, seems-like-forever plot, but I could always deal with it. The Museum of Innocence has bored me to the end. It’s so unfortunate that Pamuk failed to concoct its narrative into a more compact yet realistic story-line. The best things about this book are thankfully its characterization and description of today’s modern Turkish society. They are so vivid and lucid, enlightening and unpretentious, smooth and mouth-gaping. I never doubt Pamuk’s capability of describing his troubled country. Or his surrounding society, for that matter.
In conclusion, I have to say that The Museum of Innocence is the worst work of Orhan Pamuk I’ve read so far. Compared to his other works of fiction, or even his memoir, this book is completely dull and unbelievably ugly. Had he not been my favorite author, I would have stopped reading it then and there.