I have always wondered while reading a novel, as to what goes on behind the scenes – the writer’s mind and his thoughts that provide the shape and form to the novel. How does he/she manage to produce such brilliant works time and time again, without any break or reluctance? How is the novel crafted? Is it art imitating life or vice-versa? And my answers were partially (I think) answered by Pamuk’s new non-fiction collection of Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, titled, “The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist”.
The title draws from the famous essay by Friedrich Schiller, “Uber naive and sentimentalische Dichtung”, conventionally translated as “On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry” – even though the principal connotation of “sentimentalisch” in German is different than “sentimental” in English. Schiller posited two types of poets and, following his example, Pamuk refers to two models of novelist and reader.
What the book really consists of are Pamuk’s meditations on the art of the novel, comprising “all the most important things I know and have learned about the novel.” Pamuk sets as his main goal “to explore the effects that novels have on their readers, how novelists work, and how novels are written.” Pamuk certainly is well qualified to speak on that subject (in addition to having won the Nobel, he teaches comparative literature and writing at Columbia). Further, his perspective is rather unusual, being a self-taught novelist from a Turkish culture with a fairly weak tradition of writing and reading books.
There is no coherent theory of the novel in the book. What it does have is the authors’ perspective on writing and reading and that is what makes the book so different and unique. It does not come with a reading list either. The chapter that stayed with me after I had finished reading the book was about The Center of the Novel and how as readers we read novels to search for that center. How as readers we feel that the novel is here to present us with “that something larger meaning” which may be the other art forms don’t live up to and I agree to a large extent with that. No one can take that away from readers or the novelist.
To sum up the book, I loved reading it. Pamuk presents his case engagingly and tautly, in a pleasant mix of autobiographical titbits, reading and writing experiences, and theory. It does not convince as presenting a ‘theory of the novel’, nor does it claim or attempt to. What it does instead is make the reader see things differently and apply them while reading a novel. It talks about how a reader and writer’s thoughts can and may be one day wil merge and the true center will then emerge.
Last Thought: I could not wait to read a novel after I was done with this book. Thank you, Mr. Pamuk.
Naive and the Sentimental Novelist, The; Pamuk, Orhan; Hamish Hamilton; Penguin India; Rs.450