Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence is now a reality. Can we do something similar in London?

Walking through the streets of Istanbul, our Notebook writer came across a charming realisation of a literary idea. We should do some of that closer to home, too

Share

Istanbul, where I recently spent my honeymoon, is a great walking city. You can turn down an unpromising-looking side street off the Istaklal Caddesi – the main shopping drag – and in minutes find yourself in a maze of trendy art and antique shops. One day we found ourselves in Cukurcuma Street, and noticed an oddly shaped, purple building before us. It was called The Museum of Innocence.

The name rang a bell. Wasn’t that the title of a novel written by the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, after he won the Nobel Prize in 2006? It was. So had he used this magenta gallery for some metaphorical purpose? Inside, it took a while to realise what we were seeing, and how amazing it was.

The Museum is the book, solidified before you through a thousand physical details, arrayed inside glass vitrines. Box-camera photographs summon the lost childhood of the novel’s protagonist, Kemal, and his posh parents in 1950s and 1960s Istanbul. Sewing machines, toys, scent bottles, cotton reels, identity cards, clocks, books of matches, pearls, stuffed birds, hurricane lamps and a million little objets from mantlepieces, bathroom cabinets, dressing tables and garages all contribute to the story of Kemal’s seduction of a shop girl, Fusun, his later search to get her back, and his obsessive building of a shrine of objects to her memory.

It’s a wonderful thing that, to appreciate this collection of resonant ephemera from the shores of the Bosphoros and the Golden Horn, you don’t need to have read the book. You understand its tragic narrative arc by a kind of osmosis, by gazing in on the life told through these pathetic details. And you bring to it a narrative of your own, a nostalgia for your own past that makes, say, a Turkish quince grater from 1953 seem poignant and personal. The museum blends a bittersweet love story with a loving evocation of a city.

It’s an extraordinary achievement by the Turkish master – and an egomaniacal one. Who would think of turning his own novel into a public museum? A few writers spring to mind. James Joyce would surely have applauded the idea, since he did something similar for Dublin: you can imagine 18 display cabinets for each of the 18 chapters of Ulysses. Gunter Grass lovingly evoked his native Danzig in his trilogy, Cat and Mouse, Dog Years and The Tin Drum.

But who has written a museum-novel that could evoke London? Where’s the metro-fiction that’s so textured and evocative that it could become a gallery of exhibits? Bleak House? Oliver Twist? Not really. Hangover Square? Too many teacups and antimacassars. London Fields? Too much darts. Brick Lane? Too niche. Absolute Beginners? White Teeth? Where’s our home-grown Pamuk?

Graphic – but not real

Extraordinary to see graphic books turn up in two categories in the Costa Prize, among the novels and biographies. I wish I admired comic-strip fiction as the French do, but it always seems to me a bastard version of the real thing. As one shortlistee, Joff Winterhart, says, “My book isn’t a novel in the conventional sense, it’s a comic with pictures and speech boards.” Quite.

Good novels are made of words, without drawings that helpfully show the expressions on characters’ faces. It’s cruel but true: illustrations in novels are for children, or those who have trouble keeping up.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash