Review 1752: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

Elif Shafak is one of the most widely read Turkish women writers. I have only read one of her books so far, so when I saw 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World on my Booker prize list, I was interested to revisit her. However, I’m not entirely sure what I think of this unusual novel.

The convention of the first part of the novel is that Leila, a sex worker in Istanbul, has been murdered. Her brain is active for 10 minutes and 38 seconds while she revisits scenes from her life, each chapter representing a minute of brain activity. These chapters are separated by short sections about the lives of her five friends, who all in some way live on the fringes of society.

My first reaction was an impatience with this idea, that 10 minutes was to be represented by nearly 200 pages of text. I have a real problem with attempts like this in fiction to represent a short amount of time with several hours worth of reading. In this case, though, I got used to the idea but felt that the sections introducing the friends are an inelegant solution to our barely seeing them in the first part of the novel while the second part deals with how they handle the aftermath of Leila’s death.

And the change of tone in the second part is what bothered me most. For, we go abruptly from an elegiac tone in the first part while we learn about Leila’s difficult life to one of almost madcap comedy as a bunch of lovable misfits try to give Leila an ending she deserves. To me, this felt like a grinding change of gears.

It is brave of Shafak in her country to write about violence against women, especially since I understand she is being investigated by the Turkish authorities for it (or was when I read this months ago), but her supporting characters seem almost like caricatures to me, possibly because we don’t see that much of them in the first part. I felt like the second part of the novel almost undercuts the first part.

The Bastard of Istanbul

The Towers of Trebizond

Dance with Death

5 thoughts on “Review 1752: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

  1. IronMike November 12, 2021 / 7:30 pm

    I started this book based on my daughter’s and wife’s recommendation (from reading The Happiness of Blonde People, or something like that, and Three Daughters of Eve). But I couldn’t get past the part where the young girl and her uncle (?) were in bed. I wanted to like this book so much, but no, I don’t want to read that. Maybe I’ll try Three Daughters some day.

  2. Claire 'Word by Word' November 13, 2021 / 7:16 am

    I’ve enjoyed quite a few of her novels, but haven’t picked this one up, not sure…

    • whatmeread November 13, 2021 / 10:42 am

      I will read more of her but wasn’t that impressed with this one.

  3. FictionFan November 13, 2021 / 8:37 am

    I know what you mean about the change in tone, but I loved this one wholeheartedly nevertheless, maybe with the exception of the last few pages which went too far into magical realism territory for me. I loved the way she showed all these excluded people finding friendship and support from each other.

    • whatmeread November 13, 2021 / 10:42 am

      It was just too jarring of a switch for me, and I don’t really like magical realism.

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