Orhan Pamuk, Snow

I suppose I should just remain silent about the fact that I've -- entirely against character and the force of history -- given up, for the second time and perhaps for always, on the idea of finishing Orhan Pamuk's acclaimed novel Snow. I mean, Margaret Atwood in the New York Times called it "not only an engrossing feat of tale-spinning, but essential reading for our times." And calm Tom Payne reviewing the novel in the Telegraph: "Orhan Pamuk is the sort of writer for whom the Nobel Prize was invented."

Fortunately for me, though, good old John Updike in the New Yorker said it was at times "attenuated and opaque." (I think he finds that a bad thing.)

I wanted to get into it, I did, because I feel very provincial in my reading these days. An international bestseller, a NYT Notable Book, politically engaged, artistically dense: but I just couldn't get myself to care. Why?

A combination of reasons come to mind. First, the battles felt awfully remote, even if I am interested in the conflict between faith and atheism. Second, the artistry felt too familiar somehow -- not thuddingly so, but common rather than compelling. And these factors came together, constantly, so that I felt forever isolated from the text.

The conflict between faith and blasphemy in Turkey, centred on the issue of headscarves being banned from school, is dramatic and important, but the characters felt ... entirely like characters. I don't expect verisimilitude, or I wouldn't appreciate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and I don't need Canadian content, or I wouldn't read every single thing GGM and Salman Rushdie write, and I wouldn't have fallen so hard for Rohinton Mistry's excruciating Such A Long Journey. But somehow, Snow felt almost formulaic. If so, it's a formula too complicated for me to articulate, maddeningly, and I can't think of a single book that does the same thing, but that's how I feel this evening.

Of course, I should feel isolated from this content, so maybe that's the point. Some characters in the novel take the main character, Ka, to task for seeking Western audiences, and this book has a large Western audience, so perhaps one available option may be that my sense of isolation validates the book's artistic project? But what about Atwood? Or Tom "Excitable Boy" Payne?

Comments

patricia said…
Now I don't feel so bad. I really wanted to like 'Snow', but gave up pretty darn early. Did not grab me at all. Sort of like staring at a huge mound of snow, really. I just couldn't really see anything interesting in this book.
richard said…
My great worry with this sort of thing is that it's a kind of elaborate Rorschach test: if I don't like it, I'll be one of the first with my back to the wall when the revolution comes. I'm Just Not Smart Enough.

I can see why people would respond positively, but its merits don't make up for my lack of motivation to stick with it. I did make it almost halfway, but my shelves have too many unread books on them for me to keep going. I dropped it and started Diane Schoemperlen's Our Lady of the Lost and Found, and that's going much better!
patricia said…
Exactly. Life is too damn short to worry about whether one is Smart Enough or not. The true smart ones realize that they will not be on their deathbeds regreting the fact that they never read any Gaddis.
fiona-h said…
ok I think I will skip this one. Thanks for the filter.
richard said…
But I really did want to like it....
fiona-h said…
I didn't even want to read it. Now I want not to read it.

Popular Posts