The novel, like other art forms, is an open-ended artistic output which can be interpreted in varied ways. A month ago, I read Stephen King’s ‘Stephen King on Writing’ which placed plot at the center of the novel as the main goal that authors pursue. Last week I finished Orhan Pamuk’s The Naïve and the Sentimental Novelist where Pamuk has discussed the novel as a more esoteric form of art (he is, in fact, against it being considered as a craft which is why he loathes creative writing workshops where the novel is considered as a craft) where the writer pursues arcane goals like finding the center of the novel, using descriptions of locations, situations etc as a conduit to convey various aspects of the main character’s personality, situation, mood and so on.
The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist is a compilation of lectures delivered by Orhan Pamuk at Cambridge on various aspects of the novel inspired by EM Forster’s Aspects of the Novel to which he acknowledges his debt. The book has generous autobiographical dollops about Pamuk’s coming of age as a reader (of mainly literary novels) and small bites of how the novel came about as a form of storytelling woven into the general narrative.
Pamuk substantiates his arguments by discussing novels - War and Peace, Moby Dick, Anna Karenina and many more - that have shaped him as a writer. In Anna Karenina there is a scene where Anna is trying to read a novel in a train compartment while returning home, but she is not able to concentrate on the novel thanks to a handsome army officer she met at a party who has kept her mentally occupied. While she tries to unsuccessfully read the novel, Tolstoy describes the view outside the window.
Pamuk observes that the view outside the train conveys the somewhat melancholic mood of Anna. This is one of the reasons why Pamuk says Anna Karenina is one of the greatest novels of all times: where everything is an extension of the protagonist’s personality (or state of mind). Being a visual writer, Tolstoy handled the situation this way. But Stendhal, for example, would have used the time, when the character is reading, to describe the compartment. It wouldn’t have mattered much to Fyodor Dostoyevsky as he wasn’t a visual writer like Tolstoy. And so on.
Compared to nineteenth century Russian greats, there are fewer mentions of writers from the West except a few like Daniel Defoe and Dickens for obvious reasons but also Virginia Wolf, Henry James etc. E.M Forster recurs several times but not for his novels but his book The Aspects of the Novel.
Pamuk informs that the novel was born in Europe and was later adopted by writers in eastern societies, but doesn’t say how and when the adoption happened and which countries where the first ones to adopt. But you can’t fault him for that because that’s not what the book is about.
According to Pamuk, there are two kinds of novelists – naïve and sentimental. Naïve are those who write without any plan, spontaneously, while sentimental are reflective writers concerned about the structure of the novel. Similarly, naïve readers are the ones who read without considering the larger message of a novel and the reverse applies to sentimental readers. Pamuk says people who received his lecture often asked Pamuk whether he is a naïve or sentimental novelist and he said he said, “I am both.”