The Flea Palace – Book Review

To acquire items so as to use them for awhile and then throw them in the garbage, is a habit germane to those who believe themselves to be in possession of these items. Yet objects have no possessors. If anything they have their stories, and at times it is these stories that have possession of the people who have meddled with them… -From The Flea Palace, page 403-

The Flea Palace was short listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2006 and so I had high hopes for it.  Elif Shafak has created a meandering novel filled with odd and flawed characters – all living in a run down apartment building in Istanbul. The blurb on the back of the book states: ‘…we have a metaphoric conduit for the cultural and spiritual decay at the heart of Istanbul.‘ Perhaps my boredom with this novel stems from my ignorance of the culture and religion of Turkey.

Shafak begins the novel in reverse – starting in the present, spiraling back to the past, then surging forward into the future. She presents Agripina Fyodorovna Atipova, a white Russian with a tragic background whose husband ultimately brings her to Istanbul and builds a magnificent apartment building atop an old cemetery. The BonBon Palace becomes the setting for the rest of the novel.

I have to give Shafak a little credit – she develops rich characters who people the story with their oddities. The problem is the story itself, which is so convoluted at times it is difficult to follow its purpose. I must admit to feeling a bit like one of the characters when he observes: ‘So many details, so many introductory statements, so many stories whirling circles within circles that never get to the point…

There is a mystery (where is the stench around BonBon Palace coming from!??!) and Shafak eventually ties up the  loose ends – but ultimately the novel did not capture me and I was glad to turn the final page and move onto my next book.

Not recommended.

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    • Anonymous on June 15, 2007 at 12:26

    I’ve never heard of the Independent Foreign Fiction Awards. I wonder what the other books from their list are like.

    • Anonymous on June 15, 2007 at 14:05

    How disappointing!
    When you’re reading something for a challenge, and you dislike it, are you less inclined to put the book aside without finishing?

    • Anonymous on June 15, 2007 at 14:12

    Kookie: I hadn’t heard of these awards either and I haven’t read any other books on their list (if you go to the link in my review you can see what else has won and been short listed). I wonder if they are all a little on the odd side!
    Dew: Yes, I am more apt to keep reading if it’s for a challenge – and that was the case with this one. I probably wouldn’t have finished it had I not been reading it for the Summer challenge. Oh well –

    • Anonymous on June 16, 2007 at 10:34

    I’ve only heard of three of the books on their list, but one of them (Haruki Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’) is absolutely terrific. And yes, it is very odd. I’m going to have to look for some of these others. Thanks for the heads up.

    • Anonymous on June 16, 2007 at 20:02

    Kookie: Keep me posted if you read any more of the books from this list – I’m curious!

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