This is a long, lyrical novel set in Istanbul. I read Snow a few years ago but didn’t blog about it. It’s a good place to start with Pamuk, because you get his lyricism but also a bigger, political vision of Turkey. The Black Book is more self-contained, more an homage to the city. The afterward says it’s set in 1980 during a politically charged time, though I don’t know the first thing about Turkish history, so the politics went right over my head.
The plot is set up like a detective novel: Galip’s wife writes a cursory note and then disappears. She may have run off with Galip’s cousin, Celal, a political newspaper columnist with a huge following. Galip goes around the city trying to find them, and he enters Celal’s life and begins writing his columns. He spends his nights in one of Celal’s many apartments, and begins fielding threats from an obsessed reader. The danger rises.
Unlike a detective novel, however, The Black Book is a dense, postmodern gambit about identity and the nature of storytelling. Every other chapter is one of Celal’s columns (which after a while, I began skimming and then skipping altogether when they got boring). And Galip finds himself ruminating over truth and fiction, and telling stories in bars, and considering Celal’s fame as a product of the story he’s told about being a native of Istanbul.
I say “gambit” because it reminds me of Saramago’s The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. I skimmed plenty through The Black Book, through places where I saw what he was up to but that I wasn’t getting much out of, but the ending is well worth the patience to reach. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a kind of new layer added to everything, involving the narrator of the story, which is strange and interesting.