Honour by Elif Shafak – Review


Reading a new novel is like going on a blind date.  There are the butterflies in the stomach.  The anticipation.  The sweaty palms.  Will we click?  Is it going to be worth my time?  Or should I have stayed at home, digging into Ben&Jerry’s while watching endless repeats of How I Met Your Mother?  

Then there is the chat up line.  The one that can either make or break the magic.  You know, the kind that will make you quickly retreat to the toilet, squeeze your bum through the way too narrow back window and leg it or the kind that will glue you to your seat, deep in the conversation with the other person until the cleaners throw the both of you out with the murky mop water.

To me, that very first opening sentence is crucial.  If I like it, it means that most probably the characters and I will have a great journey together.  It means commitment and long-term prospects.  If it doesn’t grab my attention, it means that we will both muddle through that short “word fling” and after I’ve hit the last page I will never want to see that book again.  Ever.  My obsession extends even further to my notebook (compulsory lined pages) where I jot down gripping opening sentences (from Poor old fox has lost his socks” to “I will not drink more than fourteen alcohol units a week.”), great words (this week it’s bucolic), and anything else that takes my fancy.

So, with a sweaty palm (the other equally sweaty hand was holding on to Peanut climbing up the bookcase to get to my iPod) and racing heart I opened Honour by Elif Shafak (a critically acclaimed Turkish novelist, columnist and academic who writes both in Turkish and English ) which arrived on my doorstep a couple of weeks ago (thank you BritMums and Penguin Bookclub).

Honour by Elif Shafak

“My mother died twice.”  It had me at that.

I lost myself in a tale of two twin sisters – Pembe Kader and Jamila Yeter (Pink Destiny and Enough Beauty).   This is an intricately woven family saga that with its twist and turns takes you on a journey to London, a small Kurdish village near the Euphrates, Istanbul and Shrewsbury Prison.  A tale that provokes questions about family tradition, history and honour and paints a vivid picture of clashing cultures (Western and Eastern ; age versus youth; us and the outsiders, honour versus shame).

I could be waxing lyrical about the skilful narrative, the poetic language and magic realism (I wish I had a little djinn in my house to make me tea…sigh) filled with spirits, omens and enigmas.  I still remember a beautiful passage describing a mother and her child waiting by a river for a passing stranger to name him.

I could draw diagrams of what the book’s title represents at many different levels.  I could even make a PowerPoint presentation on how Honour fits in somewhere between Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and Isabel Allende’s House of Spirits with its storytelling exploring the darkest territories of love, faith and betrayal . I could even ….

…but I don’t have that much time.  Co-raising a baby, working and catching up on my snooze kind of take priority.  Writing this blog and reading is all I have left of so-called fun in life.  That and endless cups of tepid tea with an occasional ginger nut.

As for my book reviewing qualifications… Well, when I get to discuss books it is mainly with pint-sized adults who are pondering the metaphorical depths of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I didn’t mind sacrificing my precious sleep time to get from the first sentence to the very last word.

If it was a blind date, I would not be forcing my bulging behind through that small toilet window.

This is the best recommendation for this compelling story you will ever get.

What other books do you currently recommend?  I’m keen to expand my book dating horizons!


Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of Honour.  I’ve received no other payment to write this review , and all opinions are my own.  It’s my blog and I will write what I want to.

13 thoughts on “Honour by Elif Shafak – Review

  1. Ooh your blog is beautiful! And I totally ‘get’ your analogy over starting on a new novel – I always feel as though I’m slightly betraying the last one and will it ever compare? This book sounds fab!

  2. I’m reading this at the moment and am really enjoying it. Not usually the kind of thing I would choose to read but glad I am broadening my horizons! Great review 🙂

  3. Beautiful Blog, Isn’t this a great book?I loved your review. I’ve just finished it so I’m really glad you didn’t give the ending away! There are similarities with Isabel Allende aren’t there? She has a wonderful, distinct voice and I love the way her prose combines so many beautiful analogies. I’m just about to start reading Stacie Stewart’s Stacie Bakes (Another wonderful Cook Book given as a B’day gift). I’ve not decided on my next fiction choice yet.

    • Aw – I love cook books so will check it out 🙂 thank you for reading and commenting. Really enjoyed Honour and I’m a big Allende fan too. Love the way she makes you feel the magic! I’m currently reading a great Scottish novel so watch this space … X

  4. Reading your review gave me the strong impression that Honour could be a book I would enjoy reading! I will definitely give it a go! Thank you for sharing this.

    A book I read lately which really touched my heart was: “A beautiful lie” by Master Irfan. The novel is based in India in 1947 just before the partition. It is not only about a great friendship between 4 young boys but also about the touching relationship of one of them with his own father who is seriously ill! I don’t want to disclose too much about the storyline as I think it’s worth discovering it by yourself but I definitely highly enjoyed it (although it made me feel emotional) and I would recommend it to anyone!

  5. Pingback: Book review: ‘Honour’ by Elif Shafak | Two Cheeky Monkeys

  6. Well if it was a blind date would you be getting his phone number? I reckon so 🙂 I loved it too. Off to write my review tomorrow.

  7. Pingback: BlueBeretMum is No More… | Poetry & Pandemonium

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