Black as in dull, dark and very, very dangerous

Stand back and call the Semtex squad. From Turkey hails a yarn of quite spectacular boredom. By Hugo Barnacle

The Black Book

by Orhan Panuk trans Guneli Gun

Faber, pounds 14.99

The business of reading certain novels is, like bomb disposal, best left to professionals. This one, for instance, is a fiendish device capable of obliterating the will to live in any innocent reader who approaches it without the proper critical equipment.

The main charge consists of a massive quantity of high-grade tedium. Only the shadowy group known as the post-modernist movement has access to this deadly material in such colossal amounts, and they have shown themselves ruthless in using it in the past. Responsibility for the attempted outrage is pretty clearly theirs.

The charge is designed to be triggered by a relay of multiple hollow pretensions so cunningly laid out that it is almost impossible to avoid them wherever you try to open the book. Besides that, there is an elaborate series of anti-handling mechanisms, mainly digressive in pattern, though several of the self-reflexive type are included as back-up. To make the job of defusing still trickier, there are entire dummy circuits of literary allusions which look convincing but actually serve no purpose at all.

Make no mistake, the man who dreamt this one up knew exactly what he was doing. He tells us early on that "the never-ending adventures of lovers who vanish into obscure cities tracking down a mystery'' constitute his ideal. So he gives us the story of a young Istanbul lawyer, Galip, who comes home one evening to find that his wife Ruya has left him.The contents of her "19-word farewell note'' are never disclosed. Her half-brother Jelal, a famous newspaper columnist, has disappeared the same day.

Ruya's favourite reading was detective novels, which Galip always deplored. For him, "the only detective novel worth reading would be one in which the writer himself didn't know the identity of the murderer.'' Here is the post-modernist's trademark taunt, showing his fathomless contempt for his victims - we realise Ruya and Jelal will get killed and we won't find out who did it. Galip, who has already slipped into first-person narration for a spell, will turn out to be "the writer'', none of it will matter a toss, and there are 350 pages of this stuff still to go.

Since the feeble story can't conceivably account for all that bulk, what is it that makes the book so very big and heavy? The answer hits you - tedium! However, it's too late - it's already gone up in your face. Very, very nasty.

Having dismantled it, I can safely show you some of the complex engineering that goes to produce this brutally simple result. Every time a characters speaks, he/she embarks on a story or lecture, talking in paragraphs up to four pages long and in language like this: "And on those sad fall evenings when the night comes early, looking at the naked trees in the pale light from the apartment buildings, I knew that he would think of me...''

There are references to Lewis Carroll, Poe, Dante, Dostoevsky, the Arabian Nights, Sufism, cryptography, conspiracies. They don't mean anything. "Everything that's written... alludes not to life but, simply by virtue of having been written, alludes to some dream.'' Jelal's columns are inserted throughout the text and we are told they contain coded messages, but the codes we are given naturally don't work. Galip notices the various designs on carrier-bags toted by the Istanbul crowds and thinks, "Obviously they were all signs of a mystery. But what was the mystery?'' At the very end, Jelal's work is put down as "nonsense concerning his own private obsessions... unreadable and much too long.'' One last post-modern taunt.

You may wonder how anyone could devote such skill and workmanship to the sole purpose of boring his fellow human beings to bits. We may never know. All that is certain is that, even reduced to its components, this thing could prove lethal in the wrong hands. I dread to think what might happen if the French got hold of it, or the agents of a certain Swedish dynamite tycoon, so it remains necessary to destroy it with a controlled critical explosion, thus - don't buy this one. It's a bummer.

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker