The Museum of Innocence, by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Maureen Freely, Faber RRP£7.99, 734 pages
Istanbul, 1975: when Kemal, after six weeks of exuberant sex with 18-year-old Füsun, refuses to break off his public engagement to Sibel, the westernised daughter of a Turkish diplomat, Füsun withdraws from their affair, pitching Kemal into a decade of obsessive jealousy.
Kemal curates a museum of his own “lovesickness”, assembling artefacts pilfered from Füsun for which he claims near-Proustian qualities of stimulated recollection: an earring, a salt-shaker, a toilet doorknob, a collection of 4,213 cigarette stubs … Kemal’s solipsistic self-absorption defines and crushes Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk’s elegantly phrased but slow-paced new novel.
Far more interesting than Kemal’s pining is Pamuk’s probing of the conflict of modern, liberal lifestyles with traditional Turkish society. Unfortunately, this and other intriguing themes are elbowed out by Kemal’s narcissism, which saps energy from a beautiful but over-long, uneventful novel.