** spoiler alert **
Having read a few other Pamuk novels, the format of the Museum of Innocence is structured in a similar way: the plot for a large part of the book moves very slowly but is more action-packed towards the end. This is normally a bit irritating for me and makes it difficult to maintain interest in the book, and at first it was true in this book as well, but my perspective changed once I visited the museum in Istanbul. In the museum, each chapter has its own case filled with items mentioned in the book. Seeing all the items in the museum really makes the story come to life, and you can almost picture Kemal sitting in the Merhamet Apartments, biting the ruler he and Fusun used during their tutoring sessions. After spending an afternoon reliving the story in the museum, I came to understand the very meticulous descriptions of Kemal’s visits to the Keskin’s not as unnecessary details but as a way for Pamuk to convey the extent of Kemal’s agony.
Although my initial reaction to Kemal’s devotion to Fusun was “wow that guy completely lost his mind,” after visiting the museum I began to look past that and instead tried to look at it from Kemal’s perspective. Even though his close family and friends thought he wasted his life pursuing Fusun, at the very end of the book he tells Pamuk “Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life.” Throughout the book I was constantly questioning whether or not essentially putting his life on hold was actually fulfilling for Kemal, or whether it was just a way to alleviate the pain he felt. But even though Kemal still seems a little crazy (probably to most readers), I think for him letting his life revolve around Fusun was the only way Kemal could make himself happy. And in the museum, you can really get a feel for what Pamuk means by Aristotle’s Time, and how each object in the museum represents a very real moment in time.
I also liked that the book gave readers an idea about restraints on love relationships, including social class and the code of virginity. As someone very interested in gender relations, I was interested to hear more about how Istanbul in the 1970s (as many other places throughout history and still today), women faced a double standard when it comes to virginity.
Overall I would recommend this book to anybody interested in love stories and the modern Turkish republic, but I think a museum visit really makes the story complete.