The Black Book Essay - Critical Essays

Orhan Pamuk

Critical Overview

Orhan Pamuk's novel, The Black Book, seems to have hit a nerve with critics. Reviews are mixed. Pamuk's ability to write and to do so on intelligently on many different levels is rarely in question. He did, after all, win the Nobel Prize for literature. But not everyone could grasp the meaning of this particular novel.

One of the highest praises comes from Guy Mannes-Abbott, writing for the New Statesman & Society.  Mannes-Abbott describes Pamuk's novel this way: "It is full of stories, as well as stories about stories and stories about the form of the story, but Pamuk is much too clever a writer to settle for mere cleverness.…His writing is astonishing, for its scale and sentences, its depth and weave. The Black Book is what writing is for."

However, other critics are not so complimentary. Patrick McGrath of the Washington Post writes: "Here be marvelous monsters all right, but for much of the time one gropes in darkness—one goes round in circles—one despairs of finding a way out….The Black Book offers many pleasures, Gothic, Borgesian and other, the best of which perhaps is a vision of Istanbul as a city of sinister complexity, a peculiarly Turkish maze with an uneasy, shifting foundation."

Opinions continually see-saw. For example, Phoebe-Lou Adams of the Atlantic Monthly, simply states: "Mr. Pamuk's novel is exciting. It gives both the imagination and the intelligence thorough exercise." However, Richard Eder, of the Los Angeles Times, says: "It will dazzle and then, with an effect akin to snow-blindness, it goes indistinct. It disappears into its own virtuosity and reappears. It remains distant from the reader like someone who talks fast and well and doesn't look you in the eye, and suddenly, with disconcerting effect, looks you in the eye. It is a trying book and worth trying."