The Naïve and the Sentimentalist Novelist by Orhan Pamuk

I must confess… I did it again. I started reading a book in one language and finished it in another one with lots of swapping between the two along the way. I did it with George Elliot’s The Mill on the Floss as with Paulo Coelho’s Aleph. But this time, it’s Orhan Pamuk’s The Naïve and The Sentimentalist Novelist.

Orhan Pamuk

The problem is I’m not that comfortable with writing terminology in Turkish. All the books I read about writing so far are in English. I can safely say that I may have filled the gap a little by reading The Naïve and The Sentimentalist Novelist. And when I look back, I notice that I actually took more notes in Turkish than in English.

The book is a selection of Orhan Pamuk’s talks he delivered at Harvard as part of the Norton Lecture series and it’s about understanding what happens when we write and read novels—as it says on the cover. However, The Naïve and the Sentimentalist Novelist reveals a number of secrets of novel writing. And, that on its own is a total gem.

Before I get to the part of my highlights from the book—although it’s a bit tricky with this one as I have some highlights in Turkish and some in English—I have a list of books, plays and essays mentioned in the book.

Arabian Nights (Thousand and One Nights)
Old Masters by Thomas Bernard
The Red and The Black by Stendhal
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Ulysses by James Joyce
Swann in Love by Marcel Proust
The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
Nana by Emile Zola
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Golden Bowl by Henry James
Confessions by Jean-Jacque Rousseau
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
The Miser by Molière
The Miraculous Years by Joseph Frank
Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster
Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec
Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne
The Novel as a Spectacle (essay from The Uses of Literature) by Italo Calvino
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
Shahnameh by Ferdowsi
The Son of a Servant by August Strindberg
Sylvie by Gérard de Nerval
The Theory of the Novel by György Lukács
Three Trapped Tigers by Cabrera Infante
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
Naomi by Junichito Tanizaki
The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar

Books by Dostoyevsky:
Brothers Karamazov

Books by Lev Tolstoy:
Anna Karenina
War and Peace

Books by Charles Dickens:
Oliver Twist
David Copperfield

Books by Virginia Woolf:
The Waves
Mrs. Dalloway

Books by William Faulkner:
Old Man
The Sound and The Fury
The White Palms
As I Lay Dying

Books by Thomas Mann:
The Magic Mountain
Buddenbrooks

And my highlights from the book:
I would like to reveal to you two of my beliefs, which are firm and strong, as well as contradictory. But first allow me to set the context. In 2008, I published in Turkey a novel entitled The Museum of Innocence. This novel is concerned with (among other things) the actions and feelings of a man called Kemal, who is deeply and obsessively in love. It wasn’t long before I began receiving the following question from a number of readers, who apparently thought that his love was described in a highly realistic manner: “Mr. Pamuk, did all this actually happen to you? Mr. Pamuk, are you Kemal?”
So now let me give you my two contradictory answers, both of which I believe sincerely:
1. “No, I am not my hero Kemal.”
2. “But it would be impossible for me to ever convince readers of my novel that I am not Kemal.”

I wouldn’t want these words to suggest that I hope such agreement will be reached. On the contrary, the art of the novel draws its power from the absence of a perfect consensus between writer and reader on the understanding of fiction. Readers and authors acknowledge and agree on the fact that novels are neither completely imaginary nor completely factual.

Wondering about which parts are based on real-life experience and which parts are imagined is but one of the pleasures we find in reading a novel.

To read a novel is to wonder constantly, even at moments when we lose ourselves most deeply in the book: How much of this is fantasy, and how much is real?

At the heart of the novelist’s craft lies an optimism which thinks that the knowledge we gather from our everyday experience, if given proper form, can become valuable knowledge about reality.

Eventually, we come to love certain novels because we have expended so much imaginative labour on them. This is why we hang on to those novels, whose pages are creased and dog-eared.

In order to find meaning and readerly pleasure in the universe the writer reveals to us, we feel we must search for the novel’s secret centre, and we therefore try to embed every detail of the novel in our memory, as if learning each leaf of a tree by heart.

…the task of writing a novel is to imagine a world–a world that first exists as a picture before it eventually takes the form of words. Only later do we express through words the picture we imagine, so that readers can share this product of the imagination.

To derive pleasure from a novel is to enjoy the act of departing from words and transforming these things into images in our mind.