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the Complete Review
the complete review - lectures / literature

The Naive and
the Sentimental Novelist

Orhan Pamuk

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To purchase The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist

Title: The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (2010)
Length: 190 pages
Original in: Turkish
Availability: The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist - US
The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist - UK
The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist - Canada
El novelista ingenuo y el sentimental - España
  • Understanding what Happens when We Write and Read Novels
  • The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 2009
  • Translated by Nazim Dikbaş

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Our Assessment:

B : pleasant discursions on writing (and reading) novels, but more revealing about Pamuk than anything else

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 4/4/2011 Henry Hitchings
The Guardian . 12/3/2011 Janet Todd
The National . 24/1/2011 Chandrahas Choudhury
New Statemsan . 11/3/2011 Leo Robson
The Observer . 20/3/2011 Adam Mars-Jones
San Francisco Chronicle . 12/12/2011 Joan Frank
The Telegraph . 27/2/2011 Jonathan Bate
The Telegraph . 18/3/2011 Philip Hensher
TLS . 20/5/2011 Michael Gorra
Wall St. Journal . 20/11/2010 Timothy Farrington

  From the Reviews:
  • "In the end, Pamuk sheds more light on his own temperament than on his art. We’re left with the impression that he is a genial, self-examining author but his arguments feel either obvious or reductive. He does not set out a coherent theory of the novel." - Henry Hitchings, Financial Times

  • "Pamuk's subtitle is Understanding What Happens When We Write and Read Novels. It would be closer to the effect of the book if "we" were changed to "I": by the end, "we" understand more about Pamuk as writer and reader, less so about our own readerly habits." - Janet Todd, The Guardian

  • "If there is a criticism to be made of Pamuk's book, it is that it spends too long at the level of abstract argument and generalised assertion. It is not animated enough by the particularities and close reading that distinguishes the literary criticism of, for instance, Milan Kundera, another novelist who constructs grand theories about the novel. Pamuk the theoretician is, paradoxically, more compelling in his novels, where ideas might be thought of as a secondary layer under the primary one of story. In these essays, ideas are, so to speak, the main characters." - Chandrahas Choudhury, The National

  • "When Pamuk isn't confusing what is true for him with what is true for all novelists, he is stating the obvious, or treating the spurious as the obvious" - Leo Robson, New Statemsan

  • "It's perfectly possible to write a novel without being able to mount an argument -- and the closest Pamuk comes is repeating his opinions with changes of emphasis -- but not to write a critical book, however modest." - Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer

  • "(I)f you don't always agree -- Pamuk favors inventorying, which seems to mash a lot of the mystery out of things -- his painstaking love for literature prevails." - Joan Frank, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "The lectures can be warmly recommended to students and serious readers. They draw on the more pertinent insights of literary theory, but without any descent into jargon or faddishness. (...) (H)e is very well read in the western tradition and in these lectures he is at his best -- both pellucid and enthusiastic -- when following in the footsteps of critical-creative masters such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge." - Jonathan Bate, The Telegraph

  • "Every novelist will want to read this, and will learn from a master." - Philip Hensher, The Telegraph

  • "In fact, the more one reads, the more it seems that he has lifted his title from the wrong German. His real interest lies in the relation of the written word to the visual world." - Michael Gorra, Times Literary Supplement

  • "All this has a gauzy, mystical cast, and the more Mr. Pamuk elaborates, the blurrier the picture gets. (...) In the end, Mr. Pamuk's term does little to help us understand why some novels are so much richer than others." - Timothy Farrington, Wall Street Journal

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 Naive and the Sentimental Novelist collects the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures Orhan Pamuk gave in 2009, in which he sets out his thoughts about novels -- specifically the writing and reading of novels. Indeed, among the most appealing aspects of his lectures is that Pamuk does not merely approach the subject from the master-writer perspective, but also as a passionate, even obsessive reader. In drawing on his own experiences, both of reading and writing, it also offers a glimpse into Pamuk's life and mind -- even, amusingly, as he reminds readers repeatedly that one has to take care in how much of the writer's own experience one reads into his or her fiction. (This, as non-fiction, would seem to be much more straightforward ... but it is a novelist presenting the material .....)
       Most of Pamuk's examples rely on the realist novel: for Pamuk description and re-presentation of reality -- often in the form of detailed descriptions of objects and people -- are key. The painter in him -- as he notes, he long devoted himself to painting, before suddenly abandoning it and turning to writing -- is still a strong presence. He admits, for example:

     Here is one of my strongest opinions: novels are essentially visual literary fictions. A novel exerts its influence on us mostly by addressing our visual intelligence -- our ability to see things in our mind's eye and to turn words into mental pictures.
       Unsurprisingly, then:
When I am writing a novel, sentence by sentence, word by word (dialogue scenes aside), the first step is always the formation of a picture, an image, in my mind.
       The most obvious and fascinating manifestation of this is built around Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence, with Pamuk describing how he collected objects that would figure in his novel -- indeed:
     This is how I wrote my novel The Museum of Innocence -- by finding, studying, and describing objects that inspired me.
       The novel itself has a cataloguing-theme running through it -- and Pamuk is working on realizing an actual 'Museum of Innocence', displaying these objects,
       Pamuk also focuses on the tug between what the reader imagines is 'real' (based on fact) in a work of fiction, and what the reader can believe is purely a product of imagination . As author he admits to playing with this, knowing, for example, that readers would see him in the character of Kemal in The Museum of Innocence -- indeed, "somewhere in the back of my mind, part of me wanted my readers to think I was Kemal." He describes the fictionality of a novel as a sort of continuum, where one is unsure of where the individual parts are situated -- close to or far from reality -- and argues that that uncertainty, and the process of constantly trying to assess just how real any given part of a novel is are major parts of the appeal of reading.
       Again, Pamuk admits what he enjoys about reading informs his writing, as he argues:
     Wondering about which parts are based on real-life experience, and which parts are imagined is but one of the pleasure we find in reading a novel. Another, related pleasure stems from reading what novelists say in their prefaces, on book jackets, in interviews, and in memoirs as they try to persuade us that their real-life experiences are products of their imagination or that their made-up narratives are true stories. Like many readers, I enjoy reading this "meta-literature"
       These notions are revealing -- about Pamuk and his own writing and reading. But about the novel and novel writing more generally ? As someone who is visually essentially blind in his mind's eye -- I have to be bludgeoned by description for any of it to stick, or hazily be revealed in my mind -- and who dreads book-jacket and similar "meta-literature" (and would, for the most part, prefer to read all novels in close to a vacuum, without knowing anything about the author, not even his or her name), and who certainly couldn't care less about the real/imagined divide, Pamuk's readings are entirely foreign to me. Nevertheless, I am also passionate about many of the books he cites as examples (though it would never occur to me to highlight what he highlights about most of them). I am also a fan of his books, the products of his method. So I have to believe that the art of the novel lies elsewhere .....
       There's more to Pamuk's theories of the novel -- including that suggested in the title. As he sees it:
The more the novelist succeeds in simultaneously being both naive and sentimental, the better he writes.
       And Pamuk also sees an essential "center" to the novel (which separates it from, for example, the epic) -- and our attempts to grasp it part of the great appeal of the genre.
       Pamuk presents his case engagingly, in a pleasant mix of autobiographical titbits, reading and writing experiences, and theory. It does not convince as presenting a 'theory of the novel' (at least a general one), but it is, in all respects, revealing about Pamuk -- as naive and sentimental (and visually-oriented) novelist --, and certainly a welcome variation on the artistic memoir.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 October 2010

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The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist: Reviews: Orhan Pamuk: Other books by Orhan Pamuk under review: Other books of interest under review under review:

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About the Author:

       Internationally acclaimed Turkish author Orhan Pamuk was born in 1952. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 2006.

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© 2010-2022 the complete review

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