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?