faber and faber, 2012, 334p. Translated from the Turkish, Sessiv Ev, by Robert Finn
Silent House is Pamukâs second novel (from 1983) but not published in English till 2012. The book centres round the visit from Istanbul to her home at Cennethisar of the grandchildren of Fatma DarvinoÄlu. Fatmaâs husband, SelÃ¢hattin, was a doctor who, long before World War 2, frightened off his patients with his atheism and consequently squandered her inheritance of jewellery as a result of his lack of income. Their unusual surname was taken at the time when AtatÃ¼rk forced though the adoption of the practice for Muslims in 1934 and SelÃ¢hattin opted for âSon of Darwin.â Fatma recollects her husbandâs catalogue of unacceptable behaviours in interior monologues while present day life goes on around her. Other viewpoint characters are Fatmaâs grandson Faruk, an historian with a failed marriage; his brother Metin, who thinks heâs in love with a girl called Ceylan; her servant, the dwarf Recep, who is her husbandâs illegitimate child; and Hasan, son of Recepâs likewise bastard brother Ismail, who has become involved with right wing petty agitators and is smitten by NilgÃ¼n, sister of Faruk and Metin.
As in The Museum of Innocence the tensions between Turkey and âthe West,â tradition and modernism, religion and the secular, loom large. The political situation in 1980s Turkey is also important here. While I was not familiar with that background enough was conveyed for that lack of knowledge not to matter.
The translation is into USian which is fine for the most part but occasionally led to me being hauled away from Turkey by the intrusion of a particularly USian usage (eg ânot a centâ – would a Turkish coin denomination not have sufficed here?)
The five narrative viewpoints do not provide as sustained a focus as the all-but single one of The Museum of Innocence but do give a broader picture of Turkish society.
In one of the newspaper reviews of books of the year I saw Silent House described as a comic satire. I must say I did not find it particularly comic; the tone certainly isnât light and there is a dark tinge to proceedings. There are also hints of why Pamuk would win the Nobel prize.