I had wanted to be a writer. But after the events I am about to describe, I studied engineering geology and became a building contractor.
This was my first Orhan Pamuk. I had fairly high expectations. To say I was underwhelmed is an understatement.
We start with a young man, fatherless for all intents and purposes, for most of his teen years, who is taken on by a well-digger over the summer so he can make money before going to ‘cram school’. There’s some interesting stuff about how to dig a well by hand, but a large part is young Cem fantasizing about the mysterious red-haired woman in the nearby town of Öngören.
I spent this entire section rolling my eyes at this tired male fantasy trope. How many books do we need about a young man losing his virginity to an older, experienced and alluring mystery woman? I only kept going because of Lisa’s positive review.
A third of the way in, the story finally settles when a rather shocking and life changing incident occurs. Yes, it’s another well-worn trope to use a moral and ethical dilemma that we all know will the haunt our protagonist for the rest of his life, but this one didn’t annoy me as much as the first.
The how, what, when and where became the rest of the story.
Wrapped up in Cem’s story were two ancient stories about fathers and son. The first was the well-known story of Oedipus, a mythical Greek hero who accidentally fulfils a prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother. The second story was not as familiar to me – the story of Sohrab, a Persian warrior who was killed unknowingly by his father, Rostam, in a duel.
This meant that there were no surprises for the reader at the end. It was all about how we got there.
Ultimately I was disappointed. There was nothing subtle about Pamuk’s story, he laid it all out in front of the reader, leaving us nothing to do but go along for the ride. I read this a couple of weeks ago, and have forgotten most of the details already.
Given my long term Reading the Nobels plans, which Pamuk should I try next to get a better example of his style?
Title: The Red-Haired Woman (original title Kırmızı Saçlı Kadın) Author: Orhan Pamuk Translator: Ekin Oklap ISBN: 9781926428826 Imprint: Hamish Hamilton Published: 28 August 2017 (originally published in Turkish 2016) Format: Trade Paperback Pages: 255
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.