Pamuk wants to write a historicised (should that be an historicised?) debate on the western vs eastern concepts of art. So he writes a murder mystery.
Comparisons with The Name of The Rose are inevitable, of course. Both are mysteries which frequently lapse/rise into philosophical debate. Both are historical novels. However, Eco’s book has the edge over Pamuk’s, simply because the mystery is a lot more interesting. William and Adso have an amusing Holmes and Watson feel to them. TNOTR has clues, suspects, and enough of a convoluted murder plot to draw the reader in. It’s like religion + Agatha Christie. Pamuk gives us three suspects (Olive, Butterfly and Stork), no clues, and not enough time spent on the suspects for us to care. It makes little difference to the reader to know which one’s the murderer. My reaction was something like “He did it? Oh, okay.”
Leaving aside the main plot, however,(and you can do that with this book, the murder plot is merely a means to an end) this is actually rather a lovely book. The debate on art is good – while debating the use of the western perspectivist technique, Pamuk adopts it, letting the characters tell their own stories in their own voices. People are telling their stories, not knowing what the others are saying/doing. Rather like the minaturists working on Enishte's book. Yet the argument for traditional art is made as well. I don’t want to be a tree; I want to be its meaning.
The subplots are far more absorbing than the murder. While Shekure and Black’s relationship is really rather boring, Shekure herself (and her relationship with her sons) is interesting. The puritanical preacher Nusret Hoja and his followers provide an important background story throughout, affecting the main plot in minor but significant ways. The storyteller in the coffeehouse is magnificent.
The ending though, the hint that the author is Shekure’s son Orhan and that he may have lied to make the story better, that didn’t work for me. It’s a little too cutesy, and it’s been done far too many times before.
This sounds harsh. It really is worth reading (and owning) and I did love it. No, really.