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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Turkish Delight

by
Jan Wolkers


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Turkish Delight



Title: Turkish Delight
Author: Jan Wolkers
Genre: Novel
Written: 1969 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 242 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: Turkish Delight - US
Turkish Delight - UK
Turkish Delight - Canada
Les délices de Turquie - France
Türkischer Honig - Deutschland
Olga la rossa - Italia
  • Dutch title: Turks fruit
  • Translated and with a Note by Sam Garrett
  • Previously translated by Greta Kilburn (1974)
  • Made into a film (1973), directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Rutger Hauer

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Our Assessment:

B+ : almost too obviously deliberately abrasively raw -- and yet ...

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 3/3/2017 James Reith


  From the Reviews:
  • "The new translation by Sam Garrett reads wonderfully. The book remains as compelling as it is off-putting; I constantly found myself admiring how Wolkers expressed something, rather than what was being expressed. But for a modern reader, Turkish Delight is more troubling than shocking." - James Reith, The Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The narrator of Turkish Delight doesn't mince words. He's direct, and gets to the point. And the point is often sex. Three pages in he admits: "I screwed one girl after the other. I dragged them to my lair and tore the clothes off them and rammed myself silly" -- and that's before he gets up-close and personal in his inventorying.
       Turkish Delight is, essentially, a love story -- or rather a failed-love story. That things didn't go well is made clear from the start: "I was way down in the dumps after she left me" are the narrator's opening words, and the opening chapter is a wallow in that misery. He does then get around to happier times, describing his budding relationship with Olga, and their briefly mostly happy marriage -- before it all falls apart -- but her leaving him is only a turning point in his story, not a near-conclusion. He goes on, about his time obsessing -- "What had happened ? With her, with Olga ? What had changed in the course of time ?" -- and describes, in greater detail, the time after the end of their affair, as she moves on, to other men, other marriages, even other countries -- though occasionally still popping up in his life. Eventually, Wolkers does give his narrator closure -- in the simplest way possible. Olga's changes, over the course of time -- heaped on by Wolkers, down to a knock-out blow -- make it easier for the lover to let go. A final twist makes saying good-bye all the more poignant -- but leaves no question as to its finality.
       The narrator is a sculptor, and Wolkers uses his hands-on elemental work to good effect: naturally, the sculptor literally gets his hands dirty with his work (and, as he recalls, at one decisive point, he found himself with his: "hands covered in clay so that I couldn't even hug her when she left"). But this elemental play, this dealing with the raw and personal, getting hands (and other bodily parts) dirty is fundamental in the book: from the sex ("I shout, shit, goddamn it, shit for me, I'll lick the shit off your ass") to the art to the fouled living- and working-spaces to the "model alpine landscape of dried snot" on the bottom of an easy chair. This is a novel full of the most pungent smells (e.g.: "The stench that remained, a heady mélange of chicken manure and dried haddock, you could cut with a knife"). It's full of animals, too, adding to the mess(es). The natural world, in all its manifestations, seems to infiltrate and dominate all their spaces: no polished, tidy Dutch household for them.
       Though this is the story of a love-affair, Turkish Delight barely feels like a relationship novel. The two are passionate, and that makes for a connection, but there's little sense of a shared life. When the sculptor wonders, when it's all gone south: "What had happened ? With her, with Olga ?" he does so without really acknowledging his own role: he does describe his actions, but there's little introspective reflection here. He admits to, and describes, slugging her, and he can follow cause-and-effect of his actions, but doesn't make any effort at 'working on their relationship' (though by that point it is presumably quite too late). Indeed, the most interesting interpersonal dynamics are between mother and daughter, as the sculptor does have a point that the mother-in-law's interference tends to the ruinous (As to the most touching relationship in the novel, it is between the sculptor and, of all things, a seagull ("of course I found comfort with my seagull").)
       Sex is fairly central -- a constant, treated as fundamental and elemental, right down to the penultimate chapter's title: 'Fuck Me I'm Desperate'. Still, as Olga tells him way, way too late, among her issues with him was: "That I had made love to her too often". Indeed, there's an insatiability to him -- even when she is out of the picture, he masturbates to pictures of her (when he doesn't have some other outlet). Hints of that being problematic came early on already, in the form of her fear of getting pregnant; during her fertile days: "I wasn't allowed in at all. Even if I'd had ten condoms rolled over my dick, and all the sandwich bags and woolen knee socks i the house along with it".
       The sex here is raw, rather than salacious. There's a great deal of it -- and other elemental physical activity -- but it's hardly erotic. The narrator revels in sex, and its infinite variety, but there's not that much more to it for him. He gets incredibly jealous of Olga, and then somewhat melancholy, as she moves on with a life of her own, with other men, so he genuinely seems to love her, but sex is only partially connected to any true feelings for him.
       The descriptions are consistently raw -- and translator Sam Garrett has good fun with that -- and Turkish Delight is a novel that is truly 'dirty', in every respect, with filth that isn't just sexual. Wolkers pushes the envelope as far as the graphically frank goes -- occasionally to real unpleasantness. But there's also some real humor here -- including in one classic sex-scene, the narrator unwisely unable to hold himself back when he goes to visit Olga at her mother's house after their break-up (and, yes, meddling mom gets in the middle of that ...)
       Wolkers was a sculptor too, and the narrator's artistic efforts are used well in the novel -- a nice secondary element that works well with the bigger picture. And it also allows Wolkers asides such as:

For the time being I was busy enough with the fruits of my own labor; it was no mean feat to make a start as a sculptor in a city that a previous generation had clonked full of Marxist garden gnomes. You saw them everywhere you went. On bridges. Against house fronts. On urinals. In sandstone, in limestone or in granite.
       One has to admire the vitality of Turkish Delight -- even as its ugliness can be very off-putting. This is a very direct wallow in muck -- but, for better and worse, you can almost feel (and smell ...) the spatter. And, hidden pretty deep down, there's also a bit of humanity; Turkish Delight is -- a bit manipulatively, but nevertheless -- moving, too.
       The very definition of an uncomfortable novel, there's enough to admire here to make it worth turning to.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 April 2017

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Links:

Turkish Delight: Reviews (* review of previous translation): Turkish Delight - the film: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Dutch author and sculptor Jan Wolkers lived 1925 to 2007.

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© 2017 the complete review

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