Thursday, December 14, 2006

Snowed Under by Snow

I am halfway through Orhan Pamuk's Snow. Please tell me that it gets better!

I am having to force myself through every page. I have to keep stopping to work out what proportion of the book I've read and how much there is still to go. My eyes skip over whole chunks and then I have to go back and read again.

It isn't so much the plot that's getting to me. I'm fascinated to read about Turkey, and about the clash of extremism and secularism. I like the way different characters are allowed to give their viewpoints.

I like the slightly surreal setting - the impoverished, provincial city of Kar and the relentless snow which has cut it off from the rest of the world. The issues interest me - and I really want to know why the "headscarf girls" are committing suicide. I like the fact that the main character is overcoming his writer's block and getting inspired. And there are some nicely farcical moments (the description of the political theatre is funny).

But the writing is just so terribly terribly DULL.

It feels like a C19th novel. (I feel there are echoes of Dostoevsky.) Just look at the length and complexity of the sentences! This in itself wouldn't be a problem but the dialogue is turgid, and not a single character seems alive. Ka (the poet), is such a wimp, I really don't care what happens to him. Much of this may be due to the translation, of course. In this novel of ideas, Pamuk's prose wears heavy snowboots.

Can I force myself on to the end? I'll try for the next couple of days ...


Jordan said...

Hah! Your thoughts on that book are so close to my own that it's almost creepy.

sympozium said...

I agree...the Orhan juice IS a bit sour! I had trouble ploughing through My Name is Red...still it made better reading than Inheritance of Loss hahahaha! :-)

Ron said...

If you're halfway, Sharon, then you got a lot further than I did. The book was just so boring and so were a couple of others of his that I tried.

Sufian said...

It's a page turner to me. Finished it in a day. And re-read it again the day after. So I can't understand why you think it's dull.

bibliobibuli said...

sufian - you are of a different species haha! well, we will see. i will keep going a bit. but am much cheered that i'm not alone.

Sufian said...


I don't think you will enjoy Snow. Or The Black Book. Definitely not the New Life ( but you'll fall in love with the first sentence)

But I bet you will enjoy My Name is Red. If you haven't got it I''ll lend you my copy.

Fei said...


I was half way through Snow too, but i stopped it and haven't pick it up since, just like my Ishiguro's Unconsoled. Maybe both of the books are a bit too slow for me...I'm not a patient person, though i try to be one.

animah said...


You've made several references to the first line. Now I'm curious, what is it?!!! Tell us!
I confess I couldn't finish My Name Is Red, but because my close friend said it was brilliant and after all this recent hoo ha over Orhan, I'm going to try again. I read it just after delivery so perhaps I wasn't quite myself, more like a cow.
Another close friend said Snow was one of the best books he ever read.
Both these friends of mine are highly intelligent with strong opinions, creative, and deeply spiritual.
Perhaps they could relate to the author.

benny said...

I think you ought to try bite size of such works, which are evidently weighted in favor of mapping out interior processes tha a plot . (I managed Joyce's Ulysses in that way to the middle. I am not dying to know the resolution of the characters. But his paragrahs read so well like Scotch down the throat,- smooth. I shall get to the end by and by. But everytime I have sat there enjoying it.) In your case perhaps translation could be the trouble. I haven't read it myself.

KayKay said...

Switch to My Name Is Red. Was half way through the book and the only reason I stopped was having to spend the better part of 2 months learning and easing into a new job.

It demands your attention but the murder mystery told from multiple points of view(including a corpse,dog and gold coin among other things) keeps things interesting.Am definitely planning on re-starting it soon.

And echo Sympozium: DEFINITELY heaps better than a certain Booker winner I had to slog through recently:-)

Sufian said...

Jesus Christ, i loves me the Unconsoled!

it reminded me of what Dante Gabriel Rosetti said about Wuthering Heights: "The action is laid in Hell --only it seems people and places have English names there."

p.s. yes i am not saying what the first line is - performance anxiety, and all. What if no one loves it? What if it's all in my head? What then?

bibliobibuli said...

highly intelligent with strong opinions, creative, and deeply spiritual

animah - haha now i know why the book doesn't fit me! i only have the strong opinions!

yes, sufian and kaykay, i will read "my name is red". i haven't got it (tho' have 3 other novels by pamuk tbr) but will buy it. can't bear to borrow.

i haven't read "the unconsoled" ... from what i know about the book though it could be a good analogy. (i have it - again tbr)

sympozium, kaykay - goodness, you guys. STILL going on about "the inheritance of loss"????

tomorrow is the payless warehouse sale. you did remember, didn't you? i plan to go in the morning.

fei said...


I did enjoy Unconsoled at the beginning, the narative attracts me right away, but half way through...I lost interest, maybe I should try a little harder.

bibliobibuli said...

see, fei, bookguilt again! why do we always have to feel so bloody guilty about not finishing books?

bibliobibuli said...

sufian - What if no one loves it? What if it's all in my head? What then? LOL - you's bonkers then. but happy bonkers. with no bookguilt on your conscience.

animah said...

You free for tea on Sat? I don't have your tel no., so please get details from your other half. Our good friend is down from UEA! But you must bring along the first line...

Sufian said...


I'll check with *my other half*. I was supposed to go to the Payless sale on saturday with *the other half* anyway. Friend from UEA? Arab friend? Or is that UAE?


It's like that until the end, the Unconsoled... a very surprising change of style, very European (Musil, Broch, etc). I was indifferent to Remains of teh Day, etc, etc, but I really like The Unconsoled. (but hated Orphans)


My Keret is coming soon! When can I pass you yours? Oh, have you read Manguel's History of Reading?

bibliobibuli said...

if you're going to animah's sat, you can pass it then

haven't read "history of reading" and have put it on my amazon wish list ... i bought "reading pictures' at a previous warehouse sale

i am keeping on with the pamuk because you are championing it. just read 2 more chapters over dinner.

sympozium said...

I want the time and money lost on slogging through "Loss" back!
Poor Anita Desai - spends all her life writing MUCH better novels than her daughter ever could, and then to see Kiran scoop the Prize like that...hahaha! Time to have my sliceoforangeandpineappleandthenreadabookinbedandthengotosleep as Kiran would so imaginatively and so "originally" write.

Burhan said...

i do think the language of Snow is not as delicious as those of pamuk's earlier novels. but i have faith that at some point of your reading it the 'literature' of it will open up to you. it happened to me twice: while i was reading 'the secret atheist', and some other part that would be a spoiler if i tell.

pamuk is working in the 'novel of ideas' genre (Sartre, Thomas Mann, Dostoevsky, Kenzaburo Oe), which is often accused of being artificial and containing lifeless characters, which i think is somewhat valid.

bibliobibuli said...



new zealand writer witi ihimaera uses the device to great effect ... and i like it too

you can't have your time back. serves you right for going on with a book you didn't like.

Burhan said...

is there a malaysian right now studying writing at UEA (University of East Anglia)? who? who? i'm extremely extremely interested to know.

bibliobibuli said...

burhanuddin - yes, you're right about "the novel of ideas" ... i'm not actually sure how i feel about that. i loved dostoevsky's "crime and punishment" so much i've reread it a couple of times ... but "the brothers karamzov" left me limp with exhaustion and i'm not sure i really "got it". dostoevsky's characters are v. well drawn though and he has some great human drama.

haven't read satre or the others you list. a big fat glaring hole in my reading i know.

and again - wondering about this gender divide - is the novel of ideas more a laddish thing? i suspect it is.

do women ever write 'em ... do they enjoy them as much as men?

yes, our friend did the MA in creative writing at UEA but I cannot say more for now especially not here on my blabmouth blog.

sympozium said...

Well, Jeanette Winterson - aren't her books "idea novels" ?
Margaret Atwood (a bit, though I can't say for sure as I could never finish a single one of her novels)...
And Kiran Desai of course - so full of ideas, so fresh and original hahahaha! :-))))

bibliobibuli said...

winterson ... maybe (only read "oranges" and that some time back ... gotta investigate)

how can you not finish atwood????????????

Subashini said...

iris murdoch, too, seems quite the ideaish lady novelist... and a.s. byatt might fall into that category, too, i think... oh and simone de beauvoir, but that is to be expected, since sartre was her "beaver". but the point of the gender divide is an interesting one. why? do women and men just engage with literature using a different set of conceptual tools?

i've read a bit of sartre and no, that one i will attempt again when i'm... well, someday. mann i enjoyed, as i did dostoevsky, so i just think that good writing will lift a novel of ideas, so to speak, give it wings, and let it soar. (sorry, i should have my morning coffee before i post here) and in the case of pamuk, maybe it's his writing that is the problem... i have to reread the white castle soon to see if i will still like it, and attempt a few his other books, as well. i am just dying of curiosity since you're not too overly fond of it, sharon, and we seem to be the only two people who enjoyed the inheritance of loss, so i have to find out for myself if snow is crisp and fresh and bracing, or just a yucky pool of slush. (heehee. sorry)

Chet said...


Who is coming down from UEA? Which I take to be University of East Anglia, my alma mater?

Burhan said...

i know it was i who said dostoevsky wrote novels of ideas, but now i'm not so sure. his characters are definitely not lifeless, yes.

i think thomas mann's 'magic mountain' is the perfect example of this genre -- he probably popularized the term 'novel of ideas'. he is, to me, one of the greatest novelists of all time, and he wrote, to me, the greatest novels of all time, in the most beautiful of prose of grand, baroque, almost operatic, architecturally cascading sentences; but i can understand the charge that his character seems lifeless and artificial because they are, in a certain sense.

maurice blanchot, whom i think is bar none the greatest literary critic of the 20th century, wrote a splendid defense of the lifelessness of sartre's novels of ideas. i'll try to dig it up and post it here.

Burhan said...

i might as well say it now. the reason i asked about the UEA person is because they just offered me last week a place to study creative writing there as well, for next year's september intake (woohoo!).

i plan to go, of course, if i can solve now the problem about the funds.

Fei said...

Yeah, Sharon, I do feel guilty if i'm not able to finish a book.

I always wish to read Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain,I've heard so much about it. Infact, I encountered the book in payless few months ago, didn't buy it, coz the condition of the book was not so good, with many grafitti in it. I think I'll be able to get another copy from payless later.

The joy of discovering good books always trigger me to visit Payless, I found so many gems there,ishiguro's remains of the days, Fisher's the Art of Eating(I like gastronomy book, enjoy Fisher's writing a lot ), O' Connor's and Welty's stories, and also my favourite author Carson McCullers.

bibliobibuli said...

burhanuddin - that's great!!!!! congrats. i hope you canget to do it. i hope we soon have malaysian novelists pouring out of bookshelves

chet - will tell later.

re. the novel of ideas - i'm also not done with thinking about it yet.

Sufian said...

I've got the New Keret, still shiny and smiley! But it says there on his bio - he's the author of Three (3) short story collections.

I've got the Bus driver who wanted to be God,
teh Nimrod flipout (the first para kills!),

What's the other one?

Goddammit. The completist in me is in hell. Hell!

Oh, The History of Reading is exquisite. Like, y'know, cakes and cheese and stuff, but expensive cakes and cheese and stuff. Just got it too...

Burhan said...

don't think i'm able to summarize blanchot's defense of the lifelessness of the novel of ideas (of sartre). so here are only the first and last paragraph:

"People wonder why the novel of ideas has a bad reputation. The complaints are many. The 'idea' itself complains of the excess of truth that it is supposed to acquire from the adventure. Alive in the domestic milieu where it took shape, its transplantation among the reflection of real things makes them into dead thoughts. In novels of this kind, the characters are reproached for being lifeless, but it is the idea that is lifeless: it no longer resembles anything but itself, it has only its own meaning: the artificial world hides it too poorly, it is more visible there than in its original bareness, so visible that it scarcely has any secrets to offer us...

"...In sum, we see it better now: the novel has nothing to fear from an idea, providing that the idea is willing to be nothing without the novel. For the novel has its own moral, which is ambiguity and equivocation. It has its own reality, which is the ability to discover the world in the unreal and the imaginary. And, finally, it has its truth, which forces it to assert nothing without seeking to counter it, and to make nothing succeed without preparing its failure, so that every argument that triumphs in a novel immediately stops being true."

bibliobibuli said...

thanks burhan - interesting!!