The Nobel laureate’s repeated use of the words “naive” and “sentimental” in this book derives from Friedrich Schiller’s 18 {+t} {+h} century essay “Uber naive und sentimentalische Dichtung”, which distinguished between two types of poets: the “naive” ones who write spontaneously, almost as if they are being dictated to by an unseen power; and the “sentimental” ones who are painfully self-aware, questioning everything around them, including the artifice of their own writing. Novelists can be similarly classified, Pamuk proposes.

But it would be a mistake to think of this divide as a clear-cut one: the creative process is a mysterious thing, in which “deliberate effort” and “natural, unforced talent” constantly overlap with and inform each other.

Of course, a novel hardly exists in isolation; it acquires a new life when readers respond to it, and readers can be categorised as naïve and sentimental too. The former are literal-minded sorts who always read a text as an autobiography or as disguised chronicle of the author’s experiences, while completely sentimental-reflective readers think that all texts are constructs and fictions anyway. “I must warn you to keep away from [both types of] people, because they are immune to the joys of reading novels,” writes Pamuk, tongue firmly in cheek. But somewhere between these two extremes lies the ideal reader, and as you turn the pages of The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist, you begin to think that Pamuk himself must be very close to being one such.

On view throughout this book is Orhan Pamuk the reflective writer as well as Orhan Pamuk the enthusiastic reader. His descriptions of the effect that his favourite novels have had on him — “sometimes twilight would pervade and cover everything, the whole universe would become a single emotion and a single style” — are eloquent and moving. He uses great works of literature like Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Melville’s Moby Dick to illustrate important aspects of the reading and writing process (everyone, from Homer through Cervantes to Naipaul, is grist to his mill) and reflects on the novelist’s use of the tools available to him — character, plot, time and objects. He also writes — somewhat enigmatically, not always with clarity — about the “secret centre” that a great novel should have, which the reader should — consciously or unconsciously — be seeking.

Speaking of the artistic calling that he almost took up before becoming a full-time writer, Pamuk admits, “I have always felt more childlike and naive when I paint, and more adult and sentimental when I write novels.” It was as if — he says in a very revealing passage — he wrote novels only with his intellect, but produced paintings solely with his talent. However, he also reflects that with age and experience, he may have found “the equilibrium between the naïve novelist and the sentimental novelist within me”. His best novels are certainly a testament to this. This book is an insightful literary study, but even more interestingly it’s a window into the mind of one of the major writers of our time.

grist for your mill (American)

something that you can use in order to help you to succeed As an actor, all experience is grist to the mill.
arcane known or understood by very few; mysterious; secret; obscure; esoteric: She knew a lot about sanskrit grammar and other arcane matters.
Epistolary  ( -p s t -l r ). adj. 1. Of or associated with letters or the writing of letters. 2. Being in the form of a letter: epistolary exchanges