Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

Review of My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

An unusual and interesting volume. My Name Is Red is set in the late sixteenth century in Istanbul, and is about art and religion, murder and marriage. The really striking thing about the novel is that the chapters are written from the first person perspective of a number of different characters; some of them are the protagonists and we return to them throughout the book; others are more incidental and only have one chapter of their own (these include Elegant, the murder victim (he takes the first chapter and at that point has already been killed), and images of a tree, a dog, a coin, and the devil).

These multiple narrators (often (or even always) unreliable to some degree) give the book a quirky and baroque texture. The differences in the voices aren’t always too great – the female characters, Shekure and Esther, are the most individual; the various men characters are all fairly similar – and they all address the reader directly, often drawing attention to the fact that they leave out information or lie.

Apart from the whodunnit aspect, the other main parts of the story are the relationship between Black (if the novel has one, he’s the hero) and Shekure, and also, most interestingly, the attitude of the Muslim Ottoman illustrators. Evidently capturing the dying days of Persian-style art – art that is not representative for the sake of representation, but illustrative of manuscripts, and that assumes an ‘Allah’s eye view’ of the world – My Name Is Red shows the tensions between traditional Islamic art and the new ‘Frankish’ or ‘Venetian’ art. The characters are torn between admiration of the skill of this European style, and regarding it as blasphemous (for using human perspective, and for the individuality of its subjects and its creators).

The book’s main flaw is that it’s a little long-winded – the characters dwell on memories, recite lists and retell stories. Also, the multiplicity of viewpoints and the deliberate equivocation and concealment by the characters tend to diffuse the force of the story and confuse the reader. But these aren’t important points – overall, this is a pleasantly¬† idiosyncratic and very worthwhile read.

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