Free Press Journal

The Red Haired Woman: Review


Book: The Red Haired Woman

Author: Orhan Pamuk

ISBN: 9780670089260

Published by: Penguin Random House India

Price: Rs 599/-

The Father is not only a parent but in the deep recesses of the mind, he can play the role of a distinct author. But what if the Father is not around? Then there is always something to take the place of the Father, it could be Allah, the army, or the Fatherland, says the Red-haired woman in Orhan Pamuk’s new book with the same name.

The book takes off when the protagonist, talks about his experiences in the fictional town of Öngören. He travels with the well digger Master Mahmut to be an apprentice and earn a little extra money. His father was a left-leaning political thinker who owned a pharmacy. The story initiated in the period when the protagonist’s biological father goes missing. The void that is created inside him is filled by the well digger Master Mahmut, who slowly but steadily grows to take his place. In one of his travails with Master Mahmut, the boy meets a beautiful travelling theatre artist who is the ‘red-haired woman’. His chance encounters with her makes his fantasies go wild until one day he has an intimate sexual moment with her. That moment changes something inside him and when he meets his master Mahmut again, an incident occurs that haunts him for a long long time.

Mahmut has a huge influence on the young man. He guides him at various points and when he isn’t teaching, he tells the young boy stories, that are inspired by the Koran. The boy invests a huge part of his emotions in the master well digger and thinks about him on many occasions. When he is at the bottom of the well, he wants to impress Mahmut with his work, when Mahmut asks a second apprentice to do a difficult task and spares the young boy, he is grateful, when the boy has a sexual encounter with the red-haired woman the first thing that comes to his mind is whether Mahmut would ever accept his actions.

Intertextual references to Oedipus Rex and Shahnameh are rife in the entire book. Oedipus Rex is a Greek tragedy where a young boy is prophesied to kill his father and marry his mother, and Shahnameh is the Iranian tale where the father kills his own son. Masculinity and power struggle between the males is a central theme in the book and hence the motif of the well transcends being one of just finding water but also goes into the subconscious and the unconscious mind where impulses, feelings and primal instincts play a huge role.

The Father complex is a group of unconscious associations or strong impulses which specifically pertain to the archetype of ‘The Father’. The Father complex was studied by Sigmund Freud, who associated the ambivalent feelings that a male child has with the father as a part of the Oedipus complex. Carl Jung associated it to the female child as well. Jungians have delved into the concept of Father hunger, where the absence of the father makes one look for the same in the world outside. Sometimes this could lead to finding the father within oneself. So one doesn’t have to look for the father but become one.

Perhaps the use of the well in the red-haired woman is a conscious choice of the storyteller to descend into the subconscious. The stories gradual progress is an unveiling of the subconscious to reveal the instincts of the protagonist. But does that leave room for abstraction? Pamuk’s novel does delve into the subconscious through the ladder of lyrical prose. The violence is poetic in some senses. Could there be room for uncovering the not so understandable realm of these impulses? which doesn’t necessarily follow linear thought.

Pamuk’s novel is a slow unveiling of human instinct, it is a well-woven narrative that the takes the reader to the underbelly of the Earth, slowly uncovering the layers of the human mind along with it.