October 2012

Arts & Letters

'Silent House' by Orhan Pamuk

By Alexandra Coghlan
'Silent House', Orhan Pamuk, Hamish Hamilton; $29.99

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.

There is nowhere quite like The Monthly. We are told that we live in a time of diminished attention spans; a time where the 24-hour-news-cycle has produced a collective desire for hot takes and brief summaries of the news and ideas that effect us. But we don’t believe it. The need for considered, reflective, long-form journalism has never been greater, and for almost 20 years, that’s what The Monthly has offered, from some of our finest writers.

That kind of quality writing costs money, and requires the support of our readers. Your subscription to The Monthly allows us to be the home for the best, most considered, most substantial perspectives on the state of the world. It’s Australia’s only current affairs magazine, an indispensable home for cultural commentary, criticism and reviews, and home to personal and reflective essays that celebrate and elevate our humanity.

The Monthly doesn’t just comment on our culture, our society and our politics: it shapes it. And your subscription makes you part of that.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

From the front page

Kim Williams seen through window with arms half-raised

The interesting Mr Williams

At a time when the ABC faces more pressure than ever before, is its new chair the right person for the job?

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Letter from Dunkley

As a byelection draws the nation’s focus to the scrappy suburb of the author’s childhood, a visit reveals the damage wrought by the housing crisis

Exterior of the Department of Treasury, Canberra

Tax to grind

Tax reform should not be centred on what we want, but on who we want to be

Rehearsal for the ABC TV show ‘Cooking with Wine’, March 13, 1956

Whose ABC?

Amid questions of relevance and culture war hostilities, the ABC’s charter clearly makes the case for a government-funded national broadcaster

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

David Malouf, March 2015 in Sydney

An imagined life: David Malouf

Celebrating the literary great’s 90th birthday with a visit to his incongruous home of Surfers Paradise to discuss a life in letters

Tony McNamara in New York City, January 2024

Pure things: Tony McNamara

How the Australian screenwriter of ‘Poor Things’, who cut his teeth on shows such as ‘The Secret Life of Us’, earnt his second Oscar nomination

Jeffrey Wright in ‘American Fiction’

The dread of the author: ‘American Fiction’ and ‘Argylle’

Cord Jefferson’s satire about Black artists fighting white perceptions of their work runs out of ideas, while Matthew Vaughn’s spy movie parody has no ideas of its own

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Pictures of you

The award-winning author kicks off our new fiction series with a story of coming to terms with a troubled father’s obsessions


More in Noted

Cover of Lauren Oyler’s ‘No Judgement: On Being Critical’

Lauren Oyler’s ‘No Judgement’

The American author and critic’s essay collection moves from her gripes with contemporary cultural criticism to personal reflection

Cover of Sheila Heti’s ‘Alphabetical Diaries’

Sheila Heti’s ‘Alphabetical Diaries’

The Canadian writer’s presentation of sentence-long entries from her diaries, organised alphabetically, delivers a playful and unpredictable self-examination

Cover of ‘Kids Run the Show’

Delphine de Vigan’s ‘Kids Run the Show’

The French author’s fragmentary novel employs the horror genre to explore anxieties about intimacy, celebrity and our infatuation with life on screens

Still from ‘Boy Swallows Universe’

‘Boy Swallows Universe’

The magical realism in Netflix’s adaptation of Trent Dalton’s bestselling novel derails its tender portrayal of family drama in 1980s Brisbane’s suburban fringe


Online latest

Osamah Sami with members of his local mosque

In ‘House of Gods’, Sydney’s Muslim community gets to be complicated

Plus, Barnaby Joyce shines in ‘Nemesis’, Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott deliver ‘Bottoms’, and Chloë Sevigny and Molly Ringwald step up for ‘Feud: Capote vs. The Swans’.

International Film Festival Rotterdam highlights

Films from Iran, Ukraine and Bundaberg were deserving winners at this year’s festival

Two women on a train smile and shake hands

‘Expats’ drills down on Hong Kong’s class divide

Plus, Netflix swallows Trent Dalton, Deborah Mailman remains in ‘Total Control’ and ‘Vanderpump Rules’ returns for another season

Image of a man playing music using electronics and the kora (West African harp)

Three overlooked albums of spiritual jazz from 2023

Recent releases by kora player John Haycock, trumpeter Matthew Halsall and 14-piece jazz ensemble Ancient Infinity Orchestra feel like a refuge from reality