Orhan Pamuk moves into the genre with masterly assurance ... It’s an opening redolent of Orientalist sensation fiction — and the novel has much more to offer in the same vein: ratsbane in rose-scented biscuits, kidnappings and assassinations, a cruelly curtailed rapturous love affair, bandits in mountain villages, murderously malcontent dervishes in mosques, public executions, and an ironclad ring of battleships dispatched by the Great Powers to blockade the plague-stricken island from the rest of the world ... All this is just one facet of a multi-angled book ... A masterpiece of evocation, it conjures up its imaginary island with superb fullness and immediacy ... Skills displayed in Istanbul (2003), Pamuk’s haunting commemoration of a city steeped in post-imperial melancholy amid crumbling reminders of its Byzantine and Ottoman supremacy, are first gorgeously, then grimly, redeployed. Sensuousness wafts beguilingly from scenes of Mingheria in its healthful prime ... Never a minimalist, Pamuk has sometimes carried copious documentation to unusual extremes ... A murder-mystery sub-plot featuring the deductive techniques of Sherlock Holmes adds to the novel’s rich variety. There is gruesomeness in abundance, but there is also welcome humour, which Ekin Oklap’s supple translation from the Turkish nicely brings out ... The eruption of the Covid crisis towards the end of Pamuk’s five-year writing of his novel has given present pertinence to its tale of past pestilence, long-ago lockdowns, disastrous political dithering, crackpot disease deniers and defiers, recalcitrant resistance to life-saving strategies and heroic medical persistence. But it’s as a magnificent panorama of the last days of the Ottoman Empire that this outstanding addition to Pamuk’s fictional surveys of Turkishness will enthrallingly endure.
... fascinating, wearying, and, dare I say, oddly timeless book, although Pamuk clearly has an eye on the present ... a complex and intriguing amalgam of form and genre. Some passages read like a textbook, others like a murder mystery ... At times, Nights of Plague reads like the work of someone who fell down the well of their own research and imagination, lost to an excess of details, characters, and events. While I do not know Turkish, and am always slightly wary of translations, the prose itself can feel ploddingly academic, clotted with events as if this were truly an exercise in historical documentation ... Elsewhere, there are gorgeous passages of description, surprising moments of lightness, narrative sections full of drama and old-fashioned cliff-hangers, and memorable sentences throughout ... Mostly, I was enthralled by the ways in which the islanders’ crimes, misdemeanors, and fatal missteps mirror those committed during our current worldwide coronavirus and political meltdowns ... Masterfully imagined and relentlessly inventive, Nights of Plague is worthy of the time a prepared reader will need to invest in it. Although it sometimes feels a little homework-y, that can be a virtue, too, encouraging one to rethink the present and bone up on Ottoman history simultaneously. Indeed, asking much of the reader is in keeping with Pamuk’s impressive, multifaceted, and swaggering intentions.
... long and intellectually capacious ... Yet, for all the weight of its subject matter, its tone is lightly ironic, arch, even flippant. It has many flaws. It is repetitive; it contains far too much exposition. All the same – formally and in terms of content – it is one of the most interesting books I’ve read this year ... Pamuk is hiding behind two masks, two assumed female voices. He is also an impressionist, trying out other period-appropriate authors’ personae ... Every piece of action is subjected to reprises from different points of view. It is confusing, I think deliberately so. This is a novel whose structure is not like scaffolding, more like a very complex piece of knitting ... Pamuk (and/or Mina) flout the normal rules of storytelling; the mantra 'show, don’t tell' is completely ignored...And yet none of these infringements of literary convention seems to matter much when set against the exuberance of Pamuk’s invention ... Pamuk has often written indirectly about Turkey’s nationalist revolution, and got into trouble with the Turkish authorities for doing so. This book can be read as a playful variation on the theme. More obviously it is a novel about a community ravaged by an incurable disease. It talks – in many different voices – about enforced isolation and lockdown. It tracks the way an epidemic justifies authoritarian measures, providing another way for Pamuk to make a veiled comment on Turkey’s current regime. It will inevitably be seen as his Covid novel, and yet, for all its rows of corpses, it seldom sounds a tragic note. Rather, it is a compendium of literary experiments, ludic, audacious, exasperating and entertaining.