I chose to read My Name is Red by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk for my Classics Club challenge as I had not read any novels from this part of the world previously.
I was surprised to find that the story is a murder mystery and found it to be the most unusually-told murder mystery I’ve ever read. For example, the first chapter was told by the corpse, who was lying dead in the bottom of a well.
Each chapter was told by someone or something associated with the story. The narrators included students, associates and family members of the murdered man, while others were narrated by a picture of a horse, a gold coin, the colour red and by death itself. One of the narrators is the actual murderer, although their identity is not revealed until the end of the story.
The story is set in 1591 in Istanbul. The murdered man, Elegant Effendi was a master miniaturist who had been creating a mysterious illustrated book with the assistance of other miniaturists from his studio prior to his death.
Elegant Effendi beautiful daughter, Shekure was thinking of remarrying as her soldier husband had been missing for several years. Shekure’s romance with Black, an administrator who had been in love with her since their childhood also ran through the story.
Black, who was also under suspicion of Elegant Effendi’s murder along with Master Osman, another master miniaturist, sought to find the murderer from clues in the pages of the Sultan’s books. I was shocked to learn that the Sultan’s collection of beautifully illustrated and gilded books were stored in a haphazard stash and seemingly not valued at all by the Sultan except as possessions.
The introduction of the Frankish style of art, which threatened the highly-stylised traditional art style which the miniaturists made their living from was another theme that ran through the story.
I loved the references to the miniaturist’s art and their opinions and feelings about the Frankish art. The various miniaturist’s opinions also related to their interpretation of whether or not the subjects and style of Frankish art was in keeping with their religious views, which did not allow them to create art, only to copy what already existed.
The story also references real books and stories of the time. My Name is Red would make a delightful coffee-table sized book, with pictures. The tragic story of a pair of lovers named Husrev and Shirin was constantly referenced and a very quick search on the internet brought up beautiful gilded illustrations of the pair.
I was unpleasantly surprised by the great many vulgar references in this story. Most of the male characters openly had physical relationships with very young boys and the chapter told from the point of view of a coin was an eye-opener, as I’ve certainly never thought of hiding money in the places that particular coin had been. There are also references to incest, bestiality and other practices which may have been considered normal and right at the time the story is set, but I found these parts of the book to be distasteful and would say and probably spoiled the story for me.
I also found the book to be hard work, in that I needed to concentrate hard in order to make sense of the weighty descriptions. It helped that the chapters are fairly short and the narrators changed with each chapter.
My Name is Red was book twenty one in my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of August 26, 2023.