I have long maintained that the Nobel Prize for Literature should only be given out every four years. I don’t think there are enough writers around to warrant such an accolade every year. Now, having met one of them, I wonder if it should be cancelled altogether.
The meeting did not begin well. I, of course, had no idea who he was. His name is Orhan Pamuk and he won the prize in 2006. I was at a dinner in Goa when the host asked if I had met so and so who won the Booker. I pointed to Orhan Pamuk and asked if he meant him.
“No, he won the Nobel,” he replied. Rarely have I felt more ignorant.
I tried to make amends with the Nobel Laureate. I apologised for the fact that I had never heard of him, said what an honour it was to meet him and asked him what it felt like to win literature’s highest prize.
“Such a journalistic question,” he spat out.
Funny that, coming from a journalist. But being a determined hackette I persevered. “Look, I’m just really interested, I just wonder what a difference it made to your life.”
“It made a difference to my bank account and my email account,” he replied before turning away to talk to someone far more important.
Dinner was awful. I sat in the middle of the table with two separate groups talking animatedly either side of me. This is not a position I am used to. Normally I am right at the centre of the party. I was strongly reminded of the bit in Muriel’s wedding where she finally cracks after years of trying to make friends with the cool gang. “I’m not nothing,” she weeps.
I am home now and very happy to be here. India was all I had imagined; colourful, busy, crazy, chaotic, messy and vibrant. The Nobel Laureate was not.
Copyright: Helena Frith Powell 2009
Well I am currently laid up in bed with acute tonsillitis (caught from youngest daughter) and the only thing that has made me laugh in the last 3 days is your book To Hell in High Heels, which my sister brought me over from the UK on her last visit. I bet Mr Holier than Thou Nobel Laureate’s book doesn’t have that effect on his readers. And I’ve had a positive effect on your bank account! Does anyone ever read these books apart from the judges and high-brow book clubs??
What a boor (and a bore)! His refusal to engage in conversation with you is his loss, Helena.
This is my first ever comment here although I am a devotee of your blog. It is central to my weekday routine: arrive at the press office where I work, make a cup of real coffee, and then check out your site in case there are new posts or comments. As I type this it’s after 9am in the UK and I’m in the office on my own, bliss. A good start to the day, thank you!
Darling…we are the cool gang! Keep writing your fabulous articles and books. We might not be as fancy as the Nobel gang but you know we adore you!
The Nobel prize, especially the one for literature, is always debated. There is an alternative list published too but the “real” one has got it right at times: TS Eliot, Yeats, Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Beckett, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus so not always people nobody has ever heard of and that are difficult to read. I have started one of Pamuk’s books that a friend of mine who could not get on with left me, and I stopped after a few pages as well. One day I might try again. Someone once said: A book should smile back at you when you open it.
Thank you all, I feel much better
OT: I love your blog, your writing style and, most of all, I love that you love too the one and only number ten.
Helena, you should come to Ireland and meet Seamus Heaney, he’s a really nice, down-to-earth guy who would restore your faith in Nobel writers, mimi
Sorry to leave a second comment, but his poem “Mid-term Break” would bring tears to your eyes, mimi
I feel he was entitled to feel a bit miffed that you –a writer – – had not bothered to acquaint yourself with the basic facts about a Nobel prizewinning author, at a dinner held in his honour. And why admit it to him but then claim to be ‘honoured to meet him’; it does sound as if you were going through the motions, merely in order to get a soundbite answer.
Sorry, Helena, this time I feel you weren’t quite sharp enough and you got caught out.
Helena, you were there for work not to be the centre of the party. I think sometimes when things are not going our way we have to look at things from other’s point of view. Should you not, as it was work related, have researched your subjects before attending? Sorry to be the only one not singing your praises but I know you are not one to want to surround yourself with The Emperor’s New Clothes type people either – step back, laugh at yourself and look at the big picture from HIS point of view. Yes he has his head up his bottom and thank god you don’t because you are capable of recognising your mistake, acknowledging it and moving on. Ghinch would have put it in better words than me but alas he is no longer with us, yesterday was his funeral, bless him.
LOOK YOU TWO – I had no idea who was going to be there! I was asked along by the charming Amitav to dine at his home, and when I got there I was surrounded by people I had never seen before. How on earth was I supposed to research something I didn’t know? And when I realised who he was, I was honoured to meet him, although that was short-lived…
So sorry about Graham, I will miss him too.
Hi helena, I met Orhan Pamuk once too – before he won the Nobel Prize he was at a party in India and I was over there visiting my father. I was only 18 and very nervous at being surrounded by a lot of men in suits!! I plucked up the courage to make conversation and asked him what he did for a living – he looked at me like I had just spat at him and said he wasnt interested in speaking to children!! I went bright red and went and sat in the car outside waiting for my dad till the party was over! He was rude then so it doesnt surprise me that he is rude now….
What a horrible story! He sounds even nastier than I remember…poor you, really not the kind of thing you need at that tender age. Thanks for posting this, that ‘spat’ look you describe was just the same as he gave me – plus ca change…
The Nobel prize for literature is always debated. It has been given to a host of deserving writers over the years such as T.S.Eliot, Yeats, Pablo Neruda, Beckett, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus and at times to people nobody had even heard of before the prize. I have no idea if Pamuk is one of those but I started reading one of his books and never finished it. It was passed on to me by a friend who could not get on with it either. Anyway, apparently he a controversial figure in his homeland Turkey as well, not sure if it is because of his attitudes or his rudeness……..
Pamuk gained renown in Turkey for speaking out against the genocide against Armenians, something that the authorities are only just admitting. Laudable, no doubt, but doesn’t mitigate for his books being dull and his behaviour being thqt of a nasty little shit
I’m sorry but Orhan Pamuk is hugely famous and it amazes me that you call yourself a writer and you’ve never heard of him. And he’s right: it was a crap question.
I love your blog and thank you for sharing with us. Orhan Pamuk is my favorite author and it disappoints me that he was so rude to you. Even if you had never heard of him, he should have at least shown poise and grace and been polite to you. He showed a lack of class. Please blow him off and don’t let his rudeness bother you.
Thanks Texafornian, I have just about got over it now, but am brushing up on Nobel prize winners in case of future encounters!
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