Silent House by Orhan Pamuk

faber and faber, 2012, 334p. Translated from the Turkish, Sessiv Ev, by Robert Finn

 Silent House cover

Silent House is Pamuk’s 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 Darvinoğlu. Fatma’s husband, Selahattin, 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 Atatürk forced though the adoption of the practice for Muslims in 1934 and Selahattin opted for “Son of Darwin.” Fatma recollects her husband’s catalogue of unacceptable behaviours in interior monologues while present day life goes on around her. Other viewpoint characters are Fatma’s grandson Faruk, an historian with a failed marriage; his brother Metin, who thinks he’s in love with a girl called Ceylan; her servant, the dwarf Recep, who is her husband’s illegitimate child; and Hasan, son of Recep’s likewise bastard brother Ismail, who has become involved with right wing petty agitators and is smitten by Nilgün, sister of Faruk and Metin.

As in The Museum of Innocence the tensions between Turkey and “the West,” 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 “not a cent” – 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 isn’t light and there is a dark tinge to proceedings. There are also hints of why Pamuk would win the Nobel prize.

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  1. Martin McCallion

    I’d be interested in why you think he did win the Nobel. I struggled through Snow and complained about it. I really didn’t get what is supposed to be so great, and would actively avoid reading another of his books. Not because I think I would hate it, but just because the one was such a struggle.

  2. jackdeighton

    Thanks, Martin.
    I’ve not read Snow – it’s in my tbr pile – only The Museum of Innocence and this one so I’m not really in a position to say why he won the Nobel beyond he was clearly addressing Turkish issues and the relationship between the Muslim world and “The West.” Maybe it was Turkey’s turn!
    I saw Silent House at my local library and thought I should read an early book of his while I could before going on to his later stuff. I found The Museum of Innocence more compelling than this (mainly because of the 5 narrators – too many really,) but that could also be as a result of his writing style evolving.

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