October 2012

Arts & Letters

'Silent House' by Orhan Pamuk

By Alexandra Coghlan

Originally published in 1983, Orhan Pamuk’s second novel has only now been translated into English. It’s an oversight that gives us a curious illusion of familiarity, of divination even. We already know the books this early experiment in narrative will beget – the Borgesian polyphony of My Name is Red, the political radicalism of Snow – and, like meeting the parents of a dear friend or lover, the urge is to trace back and examine what you already know through this new source.

In this case it’s an urge that yields plenty of insights, revealing a future Nobel laureate still finding his story. Like his heroes Woolf and Proust before him, Pamuk discovers it in the act of storytelling, the process of fiction and fact-making itself.

Three siblings gather in the remote Turkish seaside town of Cennethisar one summer, visiting their grandmother, Fatma, and revisiting childhood memories. As tensions build to the military coup of September 1980, each sibling absorbs the violence and political ideologies surrounding them, weaving these anxieties in to the self-narrated chapters that bring voices back to the shuttered rooms of Fatma’s silent house.

While less sophisticated than Red’s web of speakers, the associative streams of consciousness in Silent House celebrate Pamuk’s ear for dialogue. It’s particularly keen at catching the extremes of age: the monosyllabic brutality of first love and unheeded bitterness of old age. The English translation has an American flavour – the aspirational language of teenagers who know that “people can’t be anything in Turkey”.

Pamuk paces familiar ground in this portrait of Turkey at the trampled junction of West and East. But just as young Hasan finds meaning and a talisman in his beloved Nilgün’s comb, so Pamuk himself treasures the discarded personal effects too trivial for official history, fashioning them into a fragile story of self-determination.

Pamuk has often described the novel as a Western form, inorganic to Turkey’s hybrid culture, and here in his jostling, echoing, overlapping narratives, he makes a first attempt to reclaim this literary space. The novel – a literary ruin of memories that blocks new thoughts as surely as Fatma’s mouldering house stands in the way of developers – cannot be knocked down, but can be freshly filled with life (and, yes, death too). Pamuk’s characters take hold of their stories with gentle insistence, prying them out of the hands of the political, the epic, and preserving them instead as gleaming, vividly personal fragments.

Alexandra Coghlan

Alexandra Coghlan is the classical music critic for the New Statesman. She has written on the arts for the Guardian and Prospect.

'Silent House', Orhan Pamuk, Hamish Hamilton; $29.99
Cover: October 2012

October 2012

From the front page

ABC sale = politics fail

The Coalition will be fighting this all the way to the election

Image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US president Donald Trump

Seriously scary times

What are the implications of the Trump-Kim summit for America’s allies?

Image of ‘Spiegelenvironment’ by Christian Megert

ZERO is the beginning

A new exhibition at Mona brings the light to Dark Mofo

Image of Quarterly Essay 70, ‘Dead Right’, by Richard Denniss

Dead Right

How neoliberalism redefined growth in the ugliest of ways – a Quarterly Essay extract


In This Issue

'Lore' by Cate Shortland (director)

'Questions of Travel', Michelle de Kretser,
Allen and Unwin; $39.99

'Questions of Travel' by Michelle de Kretser

'Montebello', Robert Drewe, Hamish Hamilton; $29.99

'Montebello' by Robert Drewe

Brett Whiteley painting Francis Bacon's portrait, London, 1984. Photograph by John Edwards. Image courtesy of Art Gallery NSW.

Anecdotes

Remembering Australian painters


More in Arts & Letters

Collingwood

A song cycle in 5 parts

Image of The Cure in Brazil, 1987

The Cure’s permanent twilight

Robert Smith and co. are celebrating 40 years of the band. Why do they still inspire such love?

The elevated horror of Ari Aster’s ‘Hereditary’

This debut feature will test the mettle of even the most hardened genre fans

Image of Rhonda Deans exploring “the Squeeze”, Koonalda Cave, South Australia

‘Deep Time Dreaming’ by Billy Griffiths

This history of archaeology in Australia charts our changing relationship with the past


More in Noted

Cover of The Lebs

‘The Lebs’ by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

A fresh perspective on Muslim youth in Sydney’s west

Cover of A Sand Archive

‘A Sand Archive’ by Gregory Day

Day grasps landscape as an intimate living thing

‘The Choke’ by Sofie Laguna

Allen & Unwin; $32.99

Cover of Anything Is Possible

‘Anything Is Possible’ by Elizabeth Strout

Viking; $29.99


Read on

Image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US president Donald Trump

Seriously scary times

What are the implications of the Trump-Kim summit for America’s allies?

Image of ‘Spiegelenvironment’ by Christian Megert

ZERO is the beginning

A new exhibition at Mona brings the light to Dark Mofo

Image of Quarterly Essay 70, ‘Dead Right’, by Richard Denniss

Dead Right

How neoliberalism redefined growth in the ugliest of ways – a Quarterly Essay extract

Image from ‘Killing Eve’

The beguiling ‘Killing Eve’

Phoebe Waller-Bridge short-circuits the espionage thriller


×
×