Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Silent House
Orhan Pamuk

ISBN: 978-0-571-27592-2

Set in the 1980’s pre revolution Turkey, Pamuk takes us off to a small seaside town, to a house that is in a state of disrepair, wherein lives a ninety year old grandmother, looked after by her dwarf servant, who is the illegitimate son for her deceased husband, and the  grandchildren are on the way to celebrate her birthday. Sounds simple enough? Well, it is, but...

The story is told in the first person, with each character moving the story along, explaining their role in the family, their hopes and aspirations and some even have a goal in life. We meet the dwarf, who knows nothing more than to serve his mistress; she suspicious of everyone and spending her time with her memories and her past. The younger generation who visit include one who is aiming for a better life in America, one who’s wife has left him when his drinking became too much of an issue, and a young lady veering her political thoughts towards communism.  So, for very different reasons, they all agree that Grandmother should give up the house and the proceeds should be allocated accordingly. But will it work? Can they convince the elderly lady to retire to a care home? That’s the face value premise and plot of the tale. As will all Pamuk’s work, there is an underlying threat and dark, parallel subtexts will draw you into a world that is not quite as straightforward as it seems.

It is a very pedestrian work, slowly ambling along, seemingly going nowhere but giving us an in depth knowledge of each character. But as we stroll though this quaint seaside setting, small telltale signs alert us to rumblings and discontent; guards on the beach, demanding payment for sitting and sunbathing, a small time protection racket going on against the shopkeepers by the angry youth of the town.  So we are drawn in. Certainly for me, I found myself changing my opinion of each character as they went through the tale, and I think we were meant to have that change of heart. Some of the characters find the same about each other, in the same way. I am not one for giving spoilers, so I have no intention of giving anything away, but I was initially disappointed when the climax came and I was taken completely by surprise. Immediately afterwards, the story became as pedestrian s it was before the ‘event’. It is only on reflection that I can now appreciate the how and why the author did this.

As with all his work, you will get sucked into his setting, the world he wants you to inhabit and observe. The quality of the text is superb, the descriptive narrative has you exactly where he wants you to be. Because it is a slow burner, you will need patience to get stuck in, I’m afraid there is no horrific crime to report on the first few pages. What you will gt though, as you close the book for the last time, is an understanding of Turkey at the time when revolutionary thoughts were beginning to enter the heads of the new generation.    

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