After a little break from my blog and posting reviews over the festive season, I feel totally recharged and ready to share some reviews again. I popped into Waterstones the other day and I couldn’t resist picking this book up.
Ever since my trip to Istanbul last summer, I’ve grown even more fascinated by its rich history and I figured where better place to indulge than by reading a book set in old Istanbul. My Name Is Red is full of intrigue, romance, lyrical prose as well as musings about art and philosophy. It had a little of everything.
At once a fiendishly devious mystery, a beguiling love story, and a brilliant symposium on the power of art, My Name Is Red is a transporting tale set amid the splendor and religious intrigue of sixteenth-century Istanbul, from one of the most prominent contemporary Turkish writers.
The Sultan has commissioned a cadre of the most acclaimed artists in the land to create a great book celebrating the glories of his realm. Their task: to illuminate the work in the European style. But because figurative art can be deemed an affront to Islam, this commission is a dangerous proposition indeed.
The ruling elite therefore mustn’t know the full scope or nature of the project, and panic erupts when one of the chosen miniaturists disappears. The only clue to the mystery–or crime? –lies in the half-finished illuminations themselves. Part fantasy and part philosophical puzzle, My Name is Red is a kaleidoscopic journey to the intersection of art, religion, love, sex and power
After reading this book, it’s left me in two minds. There were parts of the novel which I really enjoyed it and other parts which I felt indifferent about. When I first started the novel, I expected it to centre far more on the murder mystery of the miniaturist rather than philosophical waxing on art and morality, not that I didn’t enjoy both these elements. I just expected it to be more focused on the actual plot and moving that along.
As someone who usually enjoys faster paced books, this was definitely a slow burn. At about 660 ish pages, it’s not a long novel by any means but it plods along and features a multitude of perspectives and anecdotes from the past regarding famous pieces of art and figures in folklore such as Laila and Majnun. In case you guys aren’t too familiar with that story, it’s about two lovers who are unable to be together and are separated, so Majnun descends into madness and dies alone. A not so happy ending there but it makes for some great drama and works of art!
As a reader, I feel like you have to have at least a basic level of interest in Islamic mythology and an understanding of faith in general to understand this book and the tension Pamuk so skilfully describes between the East and West and more specifically it’s artistic traditions.
Moreso than religious tension as a whole, Pamuk focuses on the way religion and art intersects in Istanbul society – how the miniaturists have a certain artistic style which doesn’t clash with their beliefs about idolatry. However, as European styles of art are becoming more influential, which at the time focused more on portraiture, tensions rise. The miniaturists were expected to draw from the essence of a being, rather than depict it realistically. It’s all very informative and opened my eyes to a subject matter I had limited knowledge about previously.
My favourite thing about My Name Is Red was the rich description and the beautiful way it was written. From the moment the story begins from the point of view of a corpse…yup, you read that right, a corpse, the story is unusual and interesting. Each chapter of the novel is from a different perspective, with some voices being a recurring feature and others a one off. One of my favourite chapters was told from the perspective of a coin!
My favourite quotes from the novel:
““Painting is the silence of thought and the music of sight.”
“Books, which we mistake for consolation, only add depth to our sorrow. ”
“When you love a city and have explored it frequently on foot, your body, not to mention your soul, gets to know the streets so well after a number of years that in a fit of melancholy, perhaps stirred by a light snow falling ever so sorrowfully, you’ll discover your legs carrying you of their own accord toward one of your favourite promontories”
“The beauty and mystery of this world only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion . . . open your eyes wide and actually see this world by attending to its colours, details and irony.”
Overall, while I have mixed feelings about my experience of reading this book, and it didn’t quite meet my expectations – I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in folklore and rich history, as well philosophy and art.
★★★ – 3 Star Rating
Does My Name Is Red sound like a book you’d be interested in? Do you enjoy stories based in fact? Would love to chat in the comments!
Until next time,