“The Museum of Innocence” by Orhan Pamuk

Book cover

Wikipedia says:

The Museum of Innocence is a novel by Orhan Pamuk, Nobel-laureate Turkish novelist published on August 29, 2008. The book is a long and detailed account of the obsessive love that Kemal, a wealthy businessman, bears for Füsun, a lower class shop girl 12 years Kemal’s junior, for over 30 years starting in 1975. Kemal loves without regard to the interests or situation of Füsun. Oblivious to his own selfishness, Kemal first refuses to give up his fiancée to be with the love of his life, and then becomes an obsessive collector of the artefacts of his life with Füsun. This is a relationship that is both lengthy and increasingly bizarre as Kemal objectifies Füsun and becomes a collector intent on satisfying his emotional obsession with his object of desire (Füsun) rather carrying on a healthy human relationship with his beloved. The book is filled with references to butterflies, a caged bird and other collectibles and collectors as Kemal carries out the fetishism of a collector. Kemal, while enthralled by Füsun, can’t in the end treat her as a subject, rather than an object – a human being rather than a thing.


We read this in February 2013.

Jill’s summary of discussion by 12 people:

Opinions were sharply divided about this book with five people finding it more or less worthwhile and awarding 7 or more points and eight people thinking it boring and tedious and giving 5 or fewer points. Amazingly most people did finish it -only 3 giving up part way through.  Points ranged from 1 to 9 with an average score of 4.9.

Primarily it was a study of obsession and, like obsession, both fascinating and boring – there’s something fascinating about someone who is so obsessed but the details of that obsession are tedious to anyone who does not share it though those details in themselves help to convey the sense of obsession. A couple of people compared the book to Lolita.

In addition the book gave us a view of the clash of cultures – East v.  West – and the difficulties in partially adopting a completely alien culture.

It was also a study of the attitudes of the very rich – especially very rich men – and their sense of entitlement.

Even some of those who didn’t care much for the book found some  interest in the details of Istanbul and Turkish life.

Extra trivia:

Wikipedia also notes that Pamuk has established a real “Museum of Innocence” in Instanbul. Based on the museum described in the book, the museum displays a “collection evocative of everyday life and culture” of Istanbul during the period in which the novel is set.

Leave a comment


  1. I thought the book was exhaustingly long. The descriptions were beautiful though.

  2. Michele

     /  February 25, 2013

    Hi Malcolm. I felt as you did to start with, and agree the book could have done with some serious editing. But the more I read the more I thought that the book was about challenging the main characters sense of entitlement and in the end, showed that all actions have consequences. Not only does Kemel lose everything himself, he also ruins any chances Fusun has in life.

    Although completely different in style, I saw similarities in themes between this book and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I liked the way it minutely examined thought processes and explored the main characters self-deception. I also enjoyed the descriptions of societies expectations.

    Overall I think it could have been a more successful novel with some serious editing. Large chunks of it felt amateurish and self-indulgent, but I found enough to hold my interest.

  3. hilaryfbbc

     /  February 23, 2013

    Sometimes this was interesting.
    Sometimes it was thought-provoking.
    Sometimes it was infuriating.
    Sometimes it was enlightening.
    Sometimes it was beautiful.
    Sometimes it was intriguing.

    You get the picture – I really quite liked it.

  4. malcolmbbc

     /  February 22, 2013

    Sorry that I had to miss the meeting, but here is my rant/ review:

    I HATED the book. According to my bookmark, I got to page 147 before giving up. The blurb in the flyleaf suggests that the book might get better as it went along, but I had got to the point where I thought that I simply couldn’t be bothered any more.

    When people ask “do you have to like the main character, to enjoy a book”, I would generally try to argue that no, it is not essential. We’ve had books before where the main character behaves badly but is still interesting. However, in this case, the narrator really did irritate me and this definitely provided a block for my reading.

    What caused my annoyance with the book? Firstly that the narrator is embarking on what is basically an affair without any apparent sense of guilt. Indeed, he seems to see it as his luck, or even right, to have both a glamorous fiance (for social standing) and a younger girlfriend (for endless nookie and – according to the narrator – desperate love). I can understand his taking advantage of opportunity, but not the apparent absense of any remorse.

    And *then* there are long sections of the book where very little actually happens, apart from him moaning on about how desperately in love he is! The last time I was so thoroughly bored about long discourses about “love”, it was being forced to read Troilus and Criseyde at schoool.

    Of course, the book is a translation and is describing another culture. This makes me wonder whether my reaction reflects my western upbringing and perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh on the narrator. He does seem to imply that he is doing what his father did, and others would, given the opportunity. Is the narrator being totally truthful or is this just a convenient interpretation? I don’t know.

    Was there anything at all that I enjoyed? I quite liked the conceit of the narrator meeting the author (at the engagement party) and being a bit rude about him.

    The collection of objects. I couldn’t tell whether he was really collecting them or whether it was just a device. Frankly, it didn’t add anything to the first 147 pages and it just felt like an overworked device.

    Scores on the doors? I’ll give it 1. I’d be tempted to give it less, but I didn’t finish the book.


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