Discussion Post: My Name is Red

April 29, 2011 at 12:00 am 2 comments

Welcome back to the Classics Challenge discussion! This week we’re looking at My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. Next week’s literary travels take us back to France and into the world of Balzac’s Le Père Goriot. (Happily, the entire book is available online via Project Gutenberg for those of you having trouble finding it or those who prefer screen-reading to book-reading for some reason.)

In the meantime, on to My Name is Red! These questions are mere starters and you should feel free to pick and choose amongst them or start your own topic in the comments. Anything you do will, of course, enter you in a drawing to win a fabulous Penguin Clothbound Classic or a limited edition 2011 World Book Night book, so definitely leave your mark! (Har har, geddit? That’s some quality miniaturist signature humor for you!)

The biggest debate at the heart of the book is the struggle between East and West. What do you make of the fact that the author (Eastern) chose to play out this conflict in the form of a mystery novel (Western)?
I wish I could say more than “I think it’s an interesting choice,” but I fear that’s all it really is and perhaps not even an intentional one at that. The format choice could be read as a comment on the insidious nature of Western styles (much like the encroaching Venetian painting style so heavily debated throughout the novel), but I suspect that Pamuk was merely writing a book and didn’t think twice about making it a novel or otherwise. It would be a really nice touch if it did mean more, though!

Why does Pamuk focus on the importance of beauty, both in illustration and in real life (notably personified by Shekure)? If beauty is both subjective and visual as well as fleeting, why is it treated as something eternal by the characters? What do they aspire to create?
The illustrations throughout the novel are supposedly the only way to live forever and create immortality, whether it’s by being portrayed in the Venetian style or by being a famed miniaturist whose illustrations will themselves be eternally famous for their beauty. But when Black and the Master go into the Treasury to see the Sultan’s books, they find that many of them have been mutilated or scribbled in by the harem and their children. Thus the books are turned upside-down and disproven as method of immortality since they are so easily destroyed or ruined. More spectacularly so when you consider how much grief and death are brought about because of them.

What other texts does My Name is Red remind you of? Are these references purposeful on the part of Pamuk?
As fate would have it, I was totally unaware of the rife accusations of plagiarism that have dodged Pamuk when I wrote this question!

Leaving that debate for another time and place, whilst reading this book I was really struck by how stylistically similar it was to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Both are slow-moving mysteries related to books and libraries solved by an old master and a younger apprentice with lengthy philosophical ruminations scattered throughout the narrative. Is this some kind of prerequisite for writing lauded bookish mysteries?

Sorry I’m a little brain-dead this week so I don’t have a lot to contribute; term essays are woefully taking over my life. Hopefully you lot can pick up the slack and point out some things you found interesting with My Name is Red!

–a rather zonked Corey


Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction, LT Classics Challenge. Tags: , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. anothercookiecrumbles  |  May 1, 2011 at 5:16 am

    I’ve had this book on my shelf since 09, but just haven’t been inspired enough to pick it up. I enjoyed The White Castle when I read it, but… I don’t know. I think it’s because of all the negative things I’ve heard about Snow.

    I am rather curious after reading your review though (it’s only the second review of the book that I’ve stumbled upon since 09) so… sooner rather than later hopefully.

    • 2. Corey  |  May 1, 2011 at 2:21 pm

      It’s a really slow-moving read so don’t expect anything exciting because it’s billed as a murder mystery. It is that, but the most molasses-like one I’ve ever encountered.

      At the same time, it is definitely well-written and -researched, so it has that going for it. I’m not sure I would really recommend the book, but I didn’t dislike it at least. I guess it mostly depends on what type of book you’re looking for. This feels like a book for a very specific type of reader more so than other books for some reason.


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