A Novelist, columnist & playwright

Ode to Obscurity

Meltem Arıkan’s recently published first novel “And… Or… Maybe…” questions the inner self and the relationships between men and women.

10.01.1999 | Turkish Daily News, Nazlı Karamustafaoğlu

The first working day of the New Year, I was busy scheduling my day when I received a book in an envelope, a book which was signed by the author. I wondered if I knew the writer. I really tried hard but couldn’t find an answer. It was a gesture after all.

Everything about the book drew my attention, the cover, the colour, the title, “And… Or… Maybe…” and almost without realising it, I began to turn the pages. I had only meant to glance at it but I was entranced and found myself reading it. It was the words, the flow of the sentences, the briefness that captured me. Soon I had put everything else aside and had to allow myself to become lost in the story.

It is baffling and puzzling or perplexing; it may be killing my curiosity softly… It left me in awe at times as, let us say; it gets more and more surprising towards the end. “I read a book one day and my whole life changed…” said writer Orhan Pamuk in his book “A New Life.” This was my first reaction as well, after I finished writer Meltem Arıkan’s first novel, entitled “And… Or… Maybe…”

The story revolves around a psychiatric clinic and the lives of the patients, the psychiatrists, the nurses, the head doctor and one psychiatrist’s family. The therapies, the group therapies, the good morning sessions… The world inside the clinic versus the world outside… Arıkan believes that a psychiatric clinic is a place where everyone is “naked.”

I said to myself, “Ahh… Shall I turn the next page, or shall I hide the book somewhere where I cannot find it.” But, like I told you earlier, the curiosity killed me, killed me in its own fair and wicked way.

As the reader is introduced to the characters in the book, it starts to haunt you. There are several patients who came to the clinic with their own free will, some trying to escape from the oddities and uneasiness of their lives, all somehow feel that there is nowhere they can run or hide. The patients cannot actually be called patients; they are the people we come across in our every day life. There are some people who are open and honest towards themselves and others, and there are many walking in and out of our lives with their masks on. Life is like a masquerade.

Each patient has their own way of perceiving things. There is a quest and a fear beneath everything. Within each of the characters the reader observes the daily quests involved in male-female relationships, sexuality, energy, daily life, insecurities, happiness, sadness, fear, desperation, love, hate and inner conflicts are all blended with one another. And all of these feelings are reflected differently from one person to another. The perfect synthesis of sanity and insanity…

After a certain time, most of the “patients” start to get used to one another, they come out of their shells and talk. The clinic becomes their home sweet home, the place where they feel secure. The sessions, once unbearably silent, become more interesting and surprising every day. They find answers to their questions within the group.

The story’s heroine, a patient named Gizem, is the most outstanding character portrayed in the novel. For her, sharing her feelings with everyone is honesty. But for some, sharing feelings is not all that easy. All have witnessed life’s ups and downs in a different way. Gizem questions the irresistible lightness or heaviness of being.

Gizem teaches everyone something different. The roles get mixed up at one stage. At times she is the doctor, everyone else the patient.

Gizem presents Doctor Eylül with the diary she has kept, believing that it expresses her inner-self better than she can.

Most of the time, expressing oneself through writing is easier than speaking. When you are writing, it is your naked self speaking without boundaries. Like many others, Arıkan sees things this way.

I must admit that talking with Meltem Arıkan was among the most difficult interviews I have had in my entire career. At one point our conversation turned into one of Doctor Eylül and Gizem’s therapy sessions. There were questions, but the answers were brief and vague. “Expressing myself through writing has always come more easily to me than expressing myself while speaking,” the writer confessed.

Back in the novel, when Gizem’s doctor reads her thoughts written down in such a poetic way, she feels like she is choking. Everything inside of her slowly turns upside down. She finds herself confused because suddenly she is forced to question herself, her identity, her feelings, her oddities, her insecurities and her desires, all of the things that she had long forgotten in the busy routine of her life. It could be called an awakening… “Being a woman… Not a woman belonging to a man, but being a woman of one’s own.”

Another striking example is the relationship between the patients Murat and Gizem. In the beginning all they do is fight, using words as their weapons. In truth, they have strong feelings for each other but for some reason they are trying to hide them through their behaviour so that no one would notice or be suspicious about anything. At first, perhaps, they did not have the courage to confess this fact, even to themselves. But, as always, Gizem, the outstanding and brave personality, takes the first step. And soon the chemistry between them begins to take action. “If you live with your logic you will be a prisoner to life, but if you live with your heart you will challenge life.”

In general, the writer focuses on the relationships between men and women. Through her characters’ experiences, she shows us several dimensions. In the interview I had with Arıkan she told me that she was not trying to give any message to her readers. “I just want them to be uneasy. I want them to ask questions of themselves, or at least ask one question of themselves.” But this is a message in itself. She wants people to ask themselves questions and in some way to analyze their wishes, their hopes and desires and to follow them. For me she at least partially achieved her utmost goal.