The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
Imagine life in the United States prior to women’s lib and the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. A girls reputation could be sullied for life if she relinquished her virginity at the wrong moment, to the wrong guy. This was the moral climate in Turkey in the 1970’s…. only worse. Most marriages were still arranged by parents, many young girls still covered their heads with scarfs, and most ‘nice’ girls remained virgins until married.
Now imagine the opening scene of The Museum of Innocence: Kemal Basmaci, 30 years old, wealthy, spoiled, and engaged to be married is in bed at his secret hideaway having sex with a lower-class 18 year old beauty contest winner, Fusun.
What begins as a passionate love affair slowly evolves into a destructive, pathetic obsession. As the plot unfolds, Kemal pursues Fusun relentlessly. He neglects his business, breaks his engagement to a wealthy socialite whom also relinquished her virginity to Kemal, and in the process ruins his own reputation. While Fusun is forced to marry another man, Kemal imposes himself into the lives of the newlyweds and tormented with loneliness and jealousy he finds solace in acquiring material possessions that have touched the hands of Fuson…or passed her line of vision. He becomes a kleptomaniac, a hoarder, filling his apartment with mementos. His collection includes everything from kitchen utensils, ticket stubs, dishes, and barrettes to 4213 lipstick stained cigarette butts, which over the course of nine years, he slowly assembles into a museum.
Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for his contribution to literature, and whether you love his writing style or think it is just too ponderous and verbose, it is undeniable that his storytelling skills are superb. Many reviews compare the content of The Museum of Innocence to Nabokov’s Lolita. I didn’t get that. Lolita was a misled, innocent, victim abused by her depraved step-father. Fusun and Kemal were both victims of their rigid Turkish society and Fusun was every bit as self-centered and manipulative as Kemal.
I did find a huge similarity to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time series: the protagonists insecurity and obsessive personality, the attention to minute details, and the ability to vividly convey colorful descriptions of the social and cultural norms of their society. They both came from elite families and fell in love with lower-class vixens. They each suffered human frailty….Proust physically, Kemal mentally, and they both sacrificed personal achievements in pursuit of their destructive uncontrollable obsessions. The primary similarity is their reference to “the passing of time” and the desire to “capture time”. Proust did it in his series of books which culminated in his opus Time Regained while Pamuk did it through his museum….both bringing a sense of reality into the realm of fiction. Pamuk is now in the process of collecting items to open his museum in Istanbul next year. The book contains an entrance ticket.
But speaking of the comparison between Proust and Pamuk there is one noticeable difference; Proust’s coup was of epic proportions. Encompassing thousands of pages, he used a large cast of characters, and was keenly observant of each person’s actions so the reader had a more intimate vision of everyone’s motives. Proust was a pioneer in his unique psychological-philosophical long-winded study of human nature. Orhan Pamuk uses the same form of prose but does it in 532 pages and focuses more on material objects than human characters. If you like Pamuk – you’ll love Proust!
Rated 4 Stars.
All contents © 2011 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.