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

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, PHP, HTML, JavaScript, CSS

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: C#.Net Developer - C#, ASP.Net, HTML...

Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst- Insurance

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: Senior Business Analyst - Insurance ...

Recruitment Genius: Property Manager

£25000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent, growing Sales...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: The demise of a Sixties monster

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A CCTV camera is seen in front of a large poster opposite in central London  

Home Office is creating more powers to turn everyone into suspects – but leave us no safer

Shami Chakrabarti
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?