Friday Arts Diary | 30 August 2013

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Film

BFI Monster Weekend, British Museum, Friday 29 August – Sunday 1 September, Films start at 20:00 daily 

Experience the British film industry at its best this weekend as the British Museum presents a trio of titles from the golden age of gothic horror. On Friday enjoy Jacques Tourneur’s chillingly realistic masterpiece The Night of the Demon which is sure to spook even the least superstitious among you. Saturday plays host to Hammer Horror’s Dracula, a bloody yet beautiful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. The festival concludes on Sunday with The Mummy – an unconventional love story that has enchanted young and old alike. The eerie surroundings of the British Museum courtyard and classic soundtracks will further tempt London’s thrill seekers to join the fun.  

Concert

iTunes Festival, Roundhouse, Sunday 1 September – Monday 30 September

It’s that time of year again. Teenagers up and down the country will be applying for tickets to the iTunes Festival – 30 days of seriously good (and free) music gigs held in Camden’s Roundhouse. Global superstars including chart topper Ellie Goulding and the object of Miley Cyrus’ striptease Robin Thicke will take the stage alongside emerging talent Bastille and The Voice’s Jessie J. As long as Miley Cyrus doesn’t ‘butt’ in it will be a month to remember.             

Music Festival

The Zoo Project Festival, Leicestershire,  until Sunday 1 September 

The Zoo Project Festival returns for a second year and promises to be bigger and better than before. Situated deep in the heartland of the British Countryside, within the woodlands of Donington Park in Leicestershire, The Zoo Project is an unparalleled experience. With 70 star-studded acts lined up and 16 hours of music a day unleash the animal inside as you party till 4am; a Safari Spa is always on hand to help with those head-throbbing mornings after.

South Asian Festival

London Mela, Gunnersbury Park, Acton, Sunday 1 September 1pm – 9pm

Immerse yourself in another culture as the London Mela – Europe’s largest outdoor South Asian festival – returns to Gunnersbury Park. Crowds always flock to Acton to enjoy the lineup of British Asian music and Bollywood figures including music artist A S Kang and singer-songwriter Arjun. Foodies will enjoy the gastronomic delights from the surrounding stalls; with DJs, dance, markets and street art as well as a funfair it’s sure to be a family day out full of weird and wonderful experiences.  

TV

Bad Education, BBC Three, 22:00, Tuesday 3 September 

Jack Whitehall bares all in his return to the big screen in the second series of the hit sitcom. Whitehall plays Alfie Wickers – the caricature of that completely useless teacher we all had at school – and in this episode alone treats us to comedy gold. From his unsuccessful attempts to lure a co-star who plays for the other team to being the object of the fascist tendencies of another, the UK’s poshest comedian will have you cringing the whole way through.  

Jack Whitehall stars in Bad Education. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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Orhan Pamuk's The Red-Haired Woman is playful and unsettling

At times, the novel seems to owe as much to Dostoevsky as to the epics of the long-distant past.

When cultures collide or begin to merge, what happens to their myths? In Orhan Pamuk’s psychodramatic and psychogeographic tale of fathers and sons, the protagonist Cem mentally collects versions of the Oedipus story from across Europe – Ingres’s painting of Oedipus and the Sphinx hanging in the Louvre, Gustave Moreau’s work of the same name, painted 50 years later, Pasolini’s film adaptation, Oedipus Rex. But he also fixates on the epic poem “Shahnameh”, written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi; and in particular the story of Rostam and Sohrab, a reversal of the Oedipus story in which father kills son rather than vice versa. As Cem and his wife travel the world’s libraries to inspect copies, what they learn is “how ephemeral all those ancient lives had been”.

Nor is Cem immune to the act of readerly projection. “Like all educated Turks of my father’s generation,” Cem tells us, “what I really hoped to find on these trips wandering the shops, the cinemas, and the museums of the Western world was an idea, an object, a painting – anything at all – that might transform and illuminate my own life.”

Cem has more reason than many to seek clarification: his own father has been absent – whether for reasons of underground political activity or romantic complications is, for a long time, unclear – for most of his childhood; he and his mother become impoverished and, as he tells us at the very beginning of the novel, his dream of becoming a writer yields to a life as a building contractor. But these matter-of-fact bare bones are deceptive, for what unfolds is a far more fabular account of a life gone awry.

Even beyond his father’s departure, Cem’s life is shaped by his teenage apprenticeship to Master Mahmut, a well-digger of great renown. It removes him from his protective mother’s sphere of influence and immerses him in a world at once simple – long hours of physical labour – and highly skilled. As his and Master Mahmut’s quest for water on a patch of land slated for development runs into difficulties, so their relationship – boss and employee, craftsman and disciple, quasi father and son – becomes antagonistic, beset by undercurrents of rivalry and rebellion. Before too long (and avoiding spoilers) matters come to a head.

Throughout, their story gestures toward the fairytale, as underlined by Cem’s irresistible attraction to a travelling theatre troupe performing satirical sketches and classical scenes in the town near their excavation, and to the red-haired woman of the title. But Pamuk, in the style that characterises much of his work, fuses this material with political and social commentary. Over the three or four decades covered by the narrative, which takes place from the mid-1980s to the present day, the landscape of Istanbul and its surrounding areas literally changes shape. Residential and commercial developments spring up everywhere, many of them courtesy of Cem and his wife Aye, who have named their business after Shahnameh’s murdered son, Sohrab. Water shortages belie the sophisticated nature of these new suburbs, which eventually begin to form an amorphous mass.

Cem is preoccupied by the differences between Turkey and Iran, the latter seeming to him more alive to its cultural past. Turks, he decides, “had become so Westernised that we’d forgotten our old poets and myths”. While in Tehran, he sees numerous depictions of Rostam and Sohrab, and finds himself stirred:

I felt frustrated and uneasy, as if a fearful memory I refused to acknowledge consciously might suddenly well up and make me miserable. The image was like some wicked thought that keeps intruding on your mind no matter how much you yearn to be rid of it.

The extent to which individuals and societies suffer by not keeping their mythic past in mind is Pamuk’s subject, but it becomes more ambiguous when different stories are brought into play. What is the significance of a son who kills his father in innocence rather than a father who kills his son? Which is the more transgressive and ultimately damaging act and should both killers be regarded as guiltless because they knew not what they did?

But, as its title is perhaps designed to suggest, these accounts of fathers and sons omit a key element of the family drama: if paternity becomes a focus to the exclusion of all else, maternal energy must find an alternative outlet. As this strange, shifting novel edges to its conclusion – becoming, in its final act, a noir thriller – that energy makes a dramatic return, changing not only the story but the entire narrative paradigm.

The Red-Haired Woman is a puzzling novel; its intentions are often concealed, and oblique. At times, it seems to owe as much to Dostoevsky as to the epics of the long-distant past; it moves forward by indirection, swapping modes and registers at will. Playful and unsettling, it reprises some of Pamuk’s favourite themes – the clash between the past and the erasures of modernity, so charged in a Turkish context, and the effect on the individual’s psyche – without quite reaching the expansive heights of some of his previous novels. It is, nonetheless, an intriguing addition to his body of work. 

The Red-Haired Woman
Orhan Pamuk. Translated by Ekin Oklap
Faber & Faber, 253pp, £16.99

This article first appeared in the 14 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The German problem