Monday, January 30, 2006

Whoosh...over my head!

Galip went on to read lines he couldn't get the hang of...

This sentence just about sums up how I feel about Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book, the novel from which it is taken.

Galip, an Istanbul lawyer, is looking for his wife who has vanished. Chapters alternate between his search and the newspaper column of his famous journalist cousin, Jelal Bey.

The idea of identity runs through the book. Can you ever really be yourself? (Especially in an Eastern country that looks so much to the West?). A question which I could happily debate. Much of the book, however, passed me by. I can't, and don't want to, understand letters, Latin, Turkish or otherwise, telling stories in people's faces. A black telephone is a black telephone. It doesn't have a hidden meaning. Signs on carrier bags tell you where they've come from (generally) not the mysteries of the universe.

I was interested enough to want to know what happens but fed up with forcing myself to read it. In the end, when reading became more of a chore than a pleasure, I skim-read the last 100 pages or so.

I am left wondering about the translation. I realise how incredibly hard it must be to do a book justice in another language. It was the Americanisms - broad (woman), geezer, it was twelve past three - that grated on me; as did 'bathetic' and 'highfalutin' in the same sentence (different registers?).

When watching a subtitled version of the French masterpiece La Haine with A-level students a few years back, I was horrified to discover the name Asterix had been translated - as Snoopy. I flew into an apoplectic rage, calmed only by the fact the kids recognised the cultural travesty without needing an explanation.

The reason this anecdote came to mind was the start of this sentence:

The host (whose goggling eyes reminded Galip at times of Bugs Bunny)...

Goggling is an ugly word. Do Bugs Bunny's eyes really goggle? In my mind, the two just don't go together. They're not an obvious pairing. My question is, obviously, this: did Pamuk use Bugs Bunny in his original?

For me the most disappointing aspect of the book is the cover's assertion that it's a "novel suffused with the sights, sounds and scents of contemporary Istanbul". There was much mention of Istanbul but I wasn't drawn in. I didn't experience, what surely must be, a great city.
I would never tell someone not to read a book - I like coffee, you like tea - but this really isn't one I'd recommend. Sadly.


Shep said...

I have to say that, amongst the 6 staff at the bookshop, (all the rest women in their 50s) none of us have finished an Orhan Pamuk book. Tried - yes. Finished - No. Someone in one of the reading groups round town chose it as their book, and we had an endless flurry of women coming in complaining not only of it'sd content, but of the 'little type'.

They loved The Lovely Bones though...

coolbuddha said...

It is always a disappointment and a chore when a book becomes hard work. It's difficult to abandon unfinished (where does the guilt when doing so come from?!) I'll steer clear of this author.