In Istanbul, in the late 1590s, the Sultan secretly commissions a great book: a celebration of his life and his empire, to be illuminated by the best artists of the day – in the European manner. But when one of the miniaturists is murdered, their master has to seek outside help. Did the dead painter fall victim to professional rivalry, romantic jealousy or religious terror? A thrilling murder mystery, ‘My Name is Red’ is also a stunning meditation on love, artistic devotion and the tensions between East and West.
©2001 Orhan Pamuk (P)2008 Canongate Books in partnership with Faber and Faber Ltd
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It's hard to say what does not work here. Is the translation poor? Are the sentences too elaborate and baroque? Is the difference between an contemporary Anglo-phone audience and a medieval Turkish court too wide to remain interested? Temporal and cultural distance does not prevent the enjoyment of say, Umberto Eco's work or Garcia Marquez's, though.
The story begins - intriguingly - with the murder of an illuminator of manuscripts, and we expect to be taken into the world of scribes and illustrators. And so we are, but the pace of description and plotting is as slow, and the story as digressive, as the arabesques adorning the margins of medieval manuscripts. Perhaps that is the point. Unfortunately it did not hold my attention. I have no idea who killed whom and why, and I'm never going to find out: I gave up after four hours.
John Lee's narration feels laboured. Certainly the editing of the chapters, with their abrupt ending and no pause between end and new chapter, makes it harder for the reader to digest the narrative. It's all a little too abrupt.
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