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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Silent House

Orhan Pamuk

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To purchase Silent House

Title: Silent House
Author: Orhan Pamuk
Genre: Novel
Written: 1983 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 334 pages
Original in: Turkish
Availability: Silent House - US
Silent House - UK
Silent House - Canada
Silent House - India
La maison du silence - France
Das stille Haus - Deutschland
La casa del silenzio - Italia
La casa del silencio - España
  • Turkish title: Sessiz Ev
  • Translated by Robert Finn

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good study of character(s), time, and place

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 7/12/2012 Delphine Strauss
The Guardian . 12/10/2012 Mark Lawson
The Independent . 10/11/2012 Alev Adil
Independent on Sunday . 7/10/2012 Max Liu
Irish Times . 24/11/2012 Eileen Battersby
Literary Review . 10/2012 Maya Jaggi
The NY Times Book Rev. . 21/10/2012 Francine Prose
San Francisco Chronicle . 5/11/2012 Michael David Lukas
The Spectator . 20/10/2012 Stig Abell
Sunday Times . 28/10/2012 Tom Deveson
TLS . 7/12/2012 Lidija Haas
The Washington Post . 8/10/2012 Marie Arana

  Review Consensus:

  Generally (if not unanimously) think it's a good introduction to Pamuk's work

  From the Reviews:
  • "Pamuk has captured Turkey at a time when its eldest generation could remember the fading years of the Ottoman empire; when the modernising, westernising zeal of the Republicís early years had turned to disillusion, and a sense of national inadequacy led younger people to look abroad, to radical ideologies or to fantasies of the past. Through the confusion of his younger characters, Pamuk reflects a national sense of confusion over where Turkey -- still a young country -- was then heading." - Delphine Strauss, Financial Times

  • "This alertness to political undercurrents is not the only foreshadowing of the writer Pamuk would become in his maturity. The novel is also structurally highly ambitious, shifting, in alternate chapters, between the viewpoints of the grand-matriarch, the manservant, two of the grandchildren and Hasan. Within these well-differentiated voices, Pamuk also brings off a technically complex trick in which monologue is continually interrupted by the character speaking dialogue." - Mark Lawson, The Guardian

  • "(A)n excellent introduction to the author for those unfamiliar with his work and a new perspective on his oeuvre for his admirers. (...) With its modernist multi-perspective narrative, the novel is full of arresting and unforgettable literary moments (.....) Silent House is both a novel of ideas and a psychologically gripping portrait of its protagonists" - Alev Adil, The Independent

  • "In reminding us of the damage that young men can do, and dramatising dead men's legacies, Silent House examines literature's role in a traumatised society." - Max Liu, Independent on Sunday

  • "First published in Turkey in 1983, it is a powerful, assured and engaging multiple-voiced narrative. It provides exciting insights into the subsequent career of a consistently original novelist. (...) Dark, often disturbing, yet peculiarly engaging, Silent House charms and saddens." - Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

  • "Alternating between the perspectives of five characters, the interior monologues, ably translated, span fantasies and fears. (...) Through Faruk watching tourists watching bellydancing ('I'd always be two people'), Pamuk rehearses the anxieties of East-West duality, authenticity and imitation, copies and fakes." - Maya Jaggi, Literary Review

  • "The smooth and graceful translation, by Robert Finn, has met the challenge of finding subtle variations in syntax, vocabulary and cadence that will distinguish the different voices without making us distractingly aware of these linguistic distinctions. (...) The book is dense, threaded through with ideas about history, religion, memory, class and politics. But it never seems didactic because the reader comes to realize that these reflections are aspects of the inner life: plausible components of the charactersí psyches." - Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

  • "At this stage of his career, Pamuk is still stretching his talent and seeing where it might lead him. Focused primarily on those months just before the 1980 coup, the novel brilliantly captures the disorder, nostalgia and hope of a society struggling with violence and self-definition." - Michael David Lukas, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Published 30 years ago in Turkish, Silent House is unquestionably true literature, and winning evidence of the youthful (but not childish) rise of Orhan Pamuk to great things." - Stig Abell, The Spectator

  • "Orhan Pamuk's second novel (...) is far more concerned with voice than with plot -- and luckily so for English readers. (...) Point of view is fraught, not so much because everybody insists on their own perspective as because none of them can find a safe place from which to observe the world." - Lidija Haas, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Although Silent House is a fascinating story that deserves to be read on its own terms, it suffers, sadly, on two counts: its publication after the writerís more mature works, and its ham-handed, amateurish translation. The story itself is propulsive. (...) I canít help but think that a very good book -- perhaps the authorís most accessible novel to date -- resides in the miasma of this translation. What a pity that ordinary readers will simply throw up their hands in frustration. If you havenít read Pamuk before, donít start here." - Marie Arana, The Washington Post

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:

       Silent House, an early work by Orhan Pamuk that appears in English translation only some three decades after it was first published, is a novel of remarkably controlled ambition. Pamuk sets it in seaside Cennethisar, about an hour out of Istanbul, rather than in the bustling metropolis itself. The time is just before the military coup of 1980, but larger national politics is filtered via newspaper reports, while the local activity is limited to young thugs trying to take advantage of the political climate to make a few bucks and throw their weight around.
       The story is fairly simple: Cennethisar has become a more upscale town, but the: "strange silent house" hasn't quite kept up with changing times. Ancient Fatma lives there still, attended to by a dwarf, Recep -- the illegitimate son of her husband. Her husband, and her son (and his wife) are long dead, but her three grandchildren now come for one of their visits.
       The chapters are alternately narrated by each of five characters: Recep; his nephew, Hasan; Fatma; and her grandsons Metin and Faruk. Local boy Hasan has fallen in with a right-wing gang, shaking down various shop owners and the like; he also has a crush on Nilgün, the third of the visiting siblings -- and a girl with left-wing leanings. Metin hangs out with the local rich kids, hopelessly infatuated with one of them, Ceylan. Historian Faruk spends his time burrowing in the local archives.
       Rotating through these personal perspectives, Pamuk effectively presents a picture of this specific time and circumstances. The two boys' -- they're hardly adult -- pining for girls who are out of reach is effectively used to bring events to various heads, with neither willing to believe they can't just win over their loves; inevitably, too, there is collateral damage.
       Meanwhile, Faruk's flailing attempts to find a story (and a way of telling that story) in the history he sifts through mirror the novelist's efforts, with Faruk reminding himself:

The structure of our brain probably has to change if we are ever to see and understand clearly, not just history, but also the world and life itself. That passion for listening to stories leads us astray every time, dragging us off to a world of fantasy, even as we continue to live in one of flesh and blood ...
       There is quite a bit of reading going on in the book -- though not solely of books: newspapers and the historical documents Faruk examines are also markers -- and reading is repeatedly a reference point, down to the ending of the novel, where Fatma contrasts a book with real life, noting that: "with a book in your hand, no matter how confusing and perplexing it might be, once you've finished it, you can always go back to the beginning" -- unlike the one-shot-deal that is life. Typically, too, Metin accuses his sister that she's forgotten her own past -- because:
All those books you read make you forget everything !
       The reality of Turkey at that time is an ugly one, as the lists of dead in the newspaper do remind them. The 'silent house' is not a place that can turn an entirely deaf ear to the world at large -- and, indeed, aspects of the current troubles do eventually intrude. But, as Recep notes -- a feeling likely shared, one way or another, by the others --:
Well, there you have it, everything's beyond the power of our speech and our words.
       As Pamuk suggests -- gently, rather than forcefully, as some young novelists might -- it's not quite like that, as he manages to fashion a work that subtly but effectively conveys that time and place exceptionally well (as well as other things, like young love and class differences). Pamuk doesn't try to do too much here, and so Silent House isn't some epic of the times -- yet in its almost understated simplicity it works very well.
       A fine and approachable introduction to the author and his work, and a good read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 January 2013

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Silent House: 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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