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

2009 forever

Blame the Coalition, not the Greens, for Australia’s decade of climate dysfunction

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”

Image from ‘The Report’

Interrogating the interrogators: ‘The Report’

This tale of the investigation into CIA torture during the War on Terror places too much faith in government procedure

Image of police station in Alice Springs with red handprints on wall

What really happened at Yuendumu?

The promised inquiries must answer the biggest questions raised by the police shooting of an Aboriginal man


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

Image of Jia Tolentino

Radical ambiguity: Jia Tolentino, Rachel Cusk and Leslie Jamison

The essay collections ‘Trick Mirror’, ‘Coventry’ and ‘Make It Scream, Make It Burn’ offer doubt and paradoxical thinking in the face of algorithmic perfectionism

Image of Archie Roach

A way home: Archie Roach

The writer of ‘Took the Children Away’ delivers a memoir of his Stolen Generations childhood and an album of formative songs

Image from ‘The Irishman’

Late style: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

Reuniting with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, the acclaimed director has delivered less of a Mob film than a morality play

Still from Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre


More in Noted

Image of ‘Wild River, Florida’

‘Civilization: The Way We Live Now’

The beautiful photographs of often grim subjects in NGV Australia’s exhibition raise questions over the medium’s power to critique

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”

Cover of ‘The Man Who Saw Everything’

‘The Man Who Saw Everything’ by Deborah Levy

The British author experiments with a narrative structure that collapses past and present

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age


Read on

Image from ‘The Report’

Interrogating the interrogators: ‘The Report’

This tale of the investigation into CIA torture during the War on Terror places too much faith in government procedure

Image of police station in Alice Springs with red handprints on wall

What really happened at Yuendumu?

The promised inquiries must answer the biggest questions raised by the police shooting of an Aboriginal man

You could drive a person crazy: Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at their career best in this bittersweet tale of divorce

Blockade tactics

Inside the 2019 IMARC protests


×
×