noir tale

İsmail Güzelsoy’s novels

reviewed by ersan üldes

‘Neither adventure, nor love, nor fear stands alone as dominant in life, so how come story tellers depend on one of them?’1

Although novels by İsmail Güzelsoy wander around all of the genres which are the usual venues of populism and bestseller fiction, they never feel like lesser works. This is because every action and every fact takes place in a conceptual deepness. In short, his novels lead one to say ‘Genre is nothing in literature’.

 

Psychopath

Psychopath (Ruh Hastası), his first novel published in 2004, focuses on the antagonism between two novelists – Selim Özkul and Edip Us. The narrator is a journalist. Later we learn that aside from the antagonism, there is not even a second novelist.

Editor in chief Burhan asks Kürşad, the journalist to interview these two famous novelists of the period and he manages to conduct an interview with Selim Özkul. However, since Edip Us is a mystic person who hides his face from the reader, Kürşad is unable reach him. Selim Özkul’s replies are actually a part of the game.

While the normal readers read the standard books, the predefined readers join the game unknowingly through the ‘hypnotic books’. The game only affects those readers who are reading the ‘hypnotic books’ and the individuals who make the rules are Selim Özkul, Burhan and Ayhan. Journalist Kürşad, the first person narrator, learns that he himself is in fact part of a game at the end of the novel, thanks to a letter left by Selim Özkul.

‘I decided to replace the two books in your houses with the normal copies.’2

Psychopath is reminiscent of novels by Paul Auster through its plot, the way the psychology of the characters is shaped and its existentialist approach to the mystical and supernatural situations. In addition, it is the work which comes closest to the postmodern illusion of reality found in his novels. The author constantly tries to give many events, which we could define as surreal, a basis in reality.

‘My young readers could ask their fathers about these events.’3

‘In order to save you from the effort of looking for these out-of-print books, I can summarize Selim’s story.’4

‘I strongly suggest that you read the rest of it (p. 213 para. 2). You can probably find it in Beyazıt State Library…’5

In Psychopath, mentioning the writing process of the novel, Güzelsoy opens a window of believability through which hard-to-believe events can be seen and believed.

‘If the text in your hands ends here, know that I died in the moment that I paused.’6

Banknote Trilogy

The first novel in ‘Banknote Trilogy’ by İsmail Güzelsoy is Squirrel (Sincap) published in 2005. The protagonists of Squirrel, are poet İskender Sof and counterfeiter Squirrel whom we meet again in his latest novel which was written after the trilogy – Colour and Fear Parables of Değil Efendi (Değil Efendi’nin Renk ve Korku Meselleri).

The quotation from a poem by Nazım Hikmet at the beginning of the book, ‘Living is not a laughing matter / You must live very seriously / Like a squirrel for example’, naturally makes us think that the character of İskender Sof is inspired by Nazım Hikmet. İskender being a communist and always escaping from the government strengthens this argument.

İskender Sof, mentions his escape plan only to his wife, his publisher and his childhood friend, and he never considers that one of those beloved people could betray him. However when the spies (Fatty and Metin) find him at the station, some doubts enter his mind. From this point onwards, a nonstop chase begins. During this escape, İskender Sof meets a diminutive man with special talents, whose nickname is Squirrel, and the plot changes entirely.

The second book of the trilogy Rukas – The Curtain is Opening (Rukas – Perde Açılıyor) focuses on the story of Salih who can understand everything just from reading banknotes. Rukas is the Rumeli Butcher, the ‘I’ narrator of the novel… We see everything through his eyes. Rukas has just got out of jail and upon arrival in Kavak begins to investigate the old events and especially Salih’s death. At the heart of this investigation is the letter which Salih wrote on banknotes and left to twelve people. If this letter is found, everything will be illuminated, and Tufan who killed Salih will be punished.

Güzelsoy wanders through different genres in Rukas, but for the most part it is a mystery and adventure novel in which the narrator usually entices the reader to join the adventure.

‘Now I will try to tell you what I was told on that day. Let’s see if you can identify the traitor before I do? I will try to be fair and tell you what happened in the order that I experienced, I will recount everything just as it happened.”7

Squirrel from the novel Squirrel and Selim Özkul from Psychopath can be seen together in Rukas. At the very beginning of the novel, one sentence from the narrator draws the outline for the novels of Güzelsoy:

‘Neither adventure, nor love, nor fear stands alone as dominant in life, how come story tellers depend on one of them?’

The last novel of the Banknote trilogy, Have a Good Journey consists of two parts – Kronos Bridge and Kronos Labyrinth. As the titles imply, Güzelsoy opens a door to the concept of time especially in regard to Schumann resonances.

The first part focuses on the mortal fight between the Pellucids and the Mağlubis while telling the adventurous story of Yılmaz who left Turkey and moved to Sweden years ago. The Pellucids are after the keys to a safe deposit box, which they think Yılmaz possesses. Inside this safe deposit box is hidden the great treasure that the Pellucids have collected throughout history. Yılmaz is in Turkey for his paid military service and the Pellucids will probably kill him after they have taken the keys from him. Yılmaz who comes to Istanbul to handle a minor problem of inheritance after he has completed his military service will not be able to go back to Sweden. Whoever Yılmaz visits is killed by Pellucids.

This story, which at first glance is a typical adventurous mystery, starts to branch into other areas and leaves the reader asking different questions as the story evolves and the narrative becomes deeper. For example, the Pellucids are not merely the kind of supernatural creatures found in a normal adventurous fiction. They are vampires in human form whose powers cease when they are confronted with stories which have more than one narrator and figures that have deeper implications and are unable to understand secondary meanings, implications or encoded words. A creature, who even though is a vampire can understand only the surface meanings, is an existentialist invention in literary fiction, rather than a fantastic one.

Before the first part ends, numerous adventures have been experienced. This finale could be the end of the novel for adventure lovers, but according to the author, there is no ‘happy ending’. The words ‘happy’ and ‘ending’ form a paradox solely through their association with one another. At this point, the narrator announces the novel has ended for some readers while it has just begun for others.

‘Zeynep and Yılmaz go to Stockholm and so on… Our book ends here for the ones who long to hear stories of happiness in life – just like me. Thank you for your patience. I wish that God should allow forty stories that any of us continue to be made together with our loved ones and in happiness.

Close your eyes and think about Zeynep, who pulls Yılmaz to herself and while he watches her, she smells and kisses him as much as she wants. You can also imagine the impatient barking of a dog outside.’8

Here we should also analyze the narrator of Have a Good Journey. At the beginning of the novel it appears that we will be swayed from one adventure to another by a classic God narrator, but then we start to think that it might in fact be an ‘I’ narrator.

‘The table which I said was as long as a dinner table, was however not even half as wide as the same dinner table. I forgot to mention this detail.’9

As pages go by, we are fully convinced that it is an ‘I’ narrator, and we find out that it is also one of the main characters of the novel.

In the first part, Yılmaz tries to solve some secrets through the conversations he makes with the characters and from these conversations he is able to decide upon his next step, but it is never exactly clear what they are revealing. However in the second part, transferring what Şükran Hanım, Resul, Habib, Orhan, Sir Withold and Nubar tells completely, the unclear points or the points that seem to be ignored in the first part are illuminated.

 

Colour and Fear Parables of Değil Efendi

Güzelsoy’s latest novel, Colour and Fear Parables of Değil Efendi focuses on the escape story of communist poet İskender Sof whom we met in Squirrel. İskender Sof who shares his escape plans with his wife, his childhood friend and his publisher, travels east by train after he is denounced by each of them separately. A veteran counterfeiter nicknamed Squirrel who he met on the train drags İskender to Iğdır, to the house of Ahund, the respectable, proud and fair wise man of Iğdır.

The stories of the characters that are ‘left outside of the escape plan’ are very interesting… Mit Osman, the watchman for the ‘deep government’, who carries magnets in his pockets and therefore sticks to anything metallic, Crazy Ninno who is part time vampire part time Zagor, Noah who heals colour blind İskender Sof through the way in which he uses colours in his marvellous paintings and shop signs, half insane Adalet Hanım who is obsessed with the Noah’s Ark among other things… At the end of the novel, the author provides hints that he might write a novel focusing on the stories of some of these characters.

These stories that seem to be separate but touch each other at certain points during the narrative, are told by Değil Efendi who is a meddah or a teller of parables. Değil Efendi who tells parables to the people he gathers in his tent starts to record these parables after the discovery of a tape recorder, therefore the real narrator is the author who transcribes these tapes. So the narrator Değil Efendi becomes one of the secondary characters of the novel, and later in the second half of the novel he joins the story himself.

Güzelsoy, in his latest novel, adopts a more humorous approach in comparison to his other novels. The reply of İskender Sof’s mother, when he tries to tell her that he is colour blind, is a good example of how the author’s humorous approach has deepened:

Once I tried to tell mom, I hardly said a couple of sentences, she thought I was being rhetoric, you know. She said something like ‘Oh, yes, when you get older, colours lose their brightness and music gives you the blues.’10

Qadi Nahit who sways all the time also adds to the irony of the novel. Our assumption that İskender Sof was inspired by Nazım Hikmet gains clarity in Güzelsoy’s latest novel.

‘He was pampered, extolled for his poetry as much as humiliated for his ideas which were found to be “destructive”. He knew that even circles who thought he was their enemy secretly read his poems.’11

İsmail Güzelsoy again tries in his latest novel to make the reader believe in supernatural events.

‘If he will get married and be a father one day, how could he tell all those things to his child? How could he make this noir tale believable without looking like a liar and a dotard?’12

‘During the writing process of the book you are reading, none of our research about the lost years of Hayati could reach a conclusion, not even a noteworthy rumour could be found.’13

What differentiates Güzelsoy novels from mystery, vampire or other adventure fiction can be found here. What makes the author much more than ‘only a fantastic storyteller’ is that the writing process of the novel was contemplated, attention was paid to the way in which the story finds its way to the reader, and time and place were established in a way that was completely dependent on the realist elements.

Güzelsoy novels have an approach we could describe as ‘new’ for Turkish Literature. Fantastic elements stand on entirely realist, even casual, local and ordinary bases. For example, Yılmaz who fights with creatures that could be described as supernatural had come to Turkey to do paid military service. Vampire Nino is a runner of errands like buying bread etc.

 One passage from Psychopath describes all of Güzelsoy’s novels very well: ‘First it was an adventure novel and it was really fun to read. Then it started to affect me with a feeling of ecstasy which grasped my body like an attack of malaria.’1

NOTES:

1 İsmail Güzelsoy, Rukas-Perde Açılıyor, Everest Publishing, First Edition, January 2006, p. 2.

2 İsmail Güzelsoy, Ruh Hastası, İletişim Publishing, First Edition, 2004, p. 203.

3 İsmail Güzelsoy, ibid, p. 93.

4 İsmail Güzelsoy, ibid, p. 94.

5 İsmail Güzelsoy, ibid, p. 96.

6 İsmail Güzelsoy, ibid, p. 213.

7 İsmail Güzelsoy, Rukas-Perde Açılıyor, Everest Publishing, First Edition, January 2006, p. 39.

8 İsmail Güzelsoy, İyi Yolculuklar, Everest Publishing, First Edition, September 2007, p. 159.

9 İsmail Güzelsoy, ibid, pp. 93-94.

10 İsmail Güzelsoy, Değil Efendi’nin Renk ve Korku Meselleri, Doğan Kitap, First Edition, April 2010, p. 17.

11 İsmail Güzelsoy, ibid, p. 107.

12 İsmail Güzelsoy, ibid, pp. 184-185.

13 İsmail Güzelsoy, ibid, p. 95.

14 İsmail Güzelsoy, Ruh Hastası, İletişim Publishing, First Edition, 2004, p. 185.