Sunday, 20 February 2011

Enough with the Cleverness already!

I'll cut to the chase:

I finished The White Castle a few days ago and was frankly glad to get it over with. This book bored me almost to tears but, my god, the man wrote Snow AND My Name is Red - I kept thinking it would simply have to improve. It didn't; its 161 pages were simply unrelenting.

One of the reviewers quoted inside the dust jacket described Pamuk as "Kafka with a light touch"; they likely meant this as a compliment and I agree entirely in the case of The White Castle, but I mean it emphatically as an insult, and quite possibly will follow this blog post up with a demand for satisfaction.

A novel in which two flat characters exchange lives, which is in fact a book within a book, and Important Existential things happen  - it's sort of Clever but does not make for either enjoyable or intellectually stimulating reading. Orhan, I've already had a talk with Coetzee about this: simple cleverness by itself does not a fine novel make. And given how your work improved after The White Castle, maybe don't require the reminder. But dammit, I am now really quite nervous about reading The Museum of Innocence!

I have said in the past that I don't require things to actually happen in novels to derive a great deal of pleasure from them. Not much happens in Salinger's fiction, for example, but I don't care because the writing and characterization are just so very just so. But if nothing is going to happen, then that nothing must be cunningly wrought, beautifully told, passing strange, adorable, irresistible, original or some other non-cliche of awesomeness I can't currently come up with. And The White Castle doesn't succeed in this. Moving on.

Looking back, looking forward
I wish I were still reading Count Zero, or something like it. I thought I'd actually read George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones next, in anticipation of the HBO series due to begin in April, but I couldn't find a copy of it anywhere. I ended up picking up Anthony Trollope's The American Senator (yes, a logical alternative. Sigh.) and began reading it on the subway home today. And was promptly made a hapless victim of Gawd's cruel humour when a woman sat down next to me and cracked open her copy of A Game of Thrones. *Shakes fist at sky*

7 comments:

heidenkind said...

Cleverness without heart gets boring so quickly. It sounds like this short book was a haul!

fatbooks.org said...

great post. I vaguely remember reading this book and it being kind of a slog. Like you say, cleverness alone isn't enough to make a book worthwhile. I don't need to understand a book on my first time through, but I do need to feel like the author isn't playing around with me just for the fun of it.

-- ellen

J.G. said...

Sometimes the concept is the best part of the book. I hate when that happens.

andrew said...

For god's sake you must read MONA LISA OVERDRIVE. For me, it's the book where Gibson's writing really comes into its own. Game of Thrones is great fun sure, but it's kind of like a really good soap-opera: you understand the appeal immediately, but you can't completely respect yourself in the morning.

Tony said...

Must read something by Pamuk soon. I've almost bought something on the Book Depository too many times now...

Bellezza said...

Funny you should use the word 'relentless' which is what I would say applies to Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence. What I started out loving I ended up abandoning because I couldn't bear page 798 of the same damn stuff: "I love her, I can't have her." Relentless in a big way.

Bellezza said...

I'll admit to loving Game of Thrones. Even in the morning. ;)