Twelve years ago Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk set out to compose a novel in the form of a museum catalog. His first step, naturally, was to go looking for real estate in Istanbul for his museum. From there, writing The Museum of Innocence was a process of collecting objects and gradually assimilating them into the novel, published in 2008. After years of delays, the museum itself finally opened in April. It must be one of the most eccentric literary construction projects since Alexander Pope’s grotto at Twickenham.
Pamuk’s protagonist obsessively collects (or, rather, steals) artifacts from his beloved and, after her death, transforms her house into The Museum of Innocence. Many of the vitrines are prosaic, like Box 68, which contains 4,213 cigarette stubs mounted in a grid from floor to ceiling, each marked with sour-cherry ice cream or lipstick. Black Light Machine is more metaphorical, a sculpture cobbled together from toys, a pasta machine, and several clocks.
Contemplating a glass of polymer-based rakı with ice, I wondered whether a museum could be said to be magical realist, or unreliably narrated. I decided to ask Pamuk: he said only that he wanted the museum to be ‘a place where time is frozen’.