Walking on the Ceilingby Published 30 Apr 2019
|Walking on the Ceiling.pdf|
A mesmerizing novel set in Paris and a changing Istanbul, about a young Turkish woman grappling with her past - her country’s and her own - and her complicated relationship with the famous British writer who longs for her memories.
After her mother’s death, Nunu moves from Istanbul to a small apartment in Paris. One day outside of a bookstore, she meets M., an older British writer whose novels about Istanbul Nunu has always admired. They find themselves walking the streets of Paris and talking late into the night. What follows is an unusual friendship of eccentric correspondence and long walks around the city.
M. is working on a new novel set in Turkey and Nunu tells him about her family, hoping to impress and inspire him. She recounts the idyllic landscapes of her past, mythical family meals, and her elaborate childhood games. As she does so, she also begins to confront her mother’s silence and anger, her father’s death, and the growing unrest in Istanbul. Their intimacy deepens, so does Nunu’s fear of revealing too much to M. and of giving too much of herself and her Istanbul away. Most of all, she fears that she will have to face her own guilt about her mother and the narratives she’s told to protect herself from her memories.
A wise and unguarded glimpse into a young woman’s coming into her own, Walking on the Ceiling is about memory, the pleasure of invention, and those places, real and imagined, we can’t escape.
Walking on the Ceiling Reviews
Some days, it's difficult to believe that this friendship really existed – with its particular logic, its detachment from the world. What I remember has the texture of a dream, an invention, a strange and weightless suspension, like walking on the ceiling.
Walking on the Ceiling is a strange little novel to pigeonhole – it's so wispy and spare, yet sketches a life in a way that we all would recognise as faithful to the processes of memory, storytelling, and self-mythologising. With a main character who thinks about her time in Paris after she returns to her hometown of Istanbul, and who had spent her time in Paris talking about Istanbul, the reader is not only treated to an intimate portrait of both cities but is witness to a damaged young woman's coming-of-age; a reckoning with her past and a squaring off to the future. Everything feels small about this book – from the weight of it in the hands to chapters as brief as two sentences – but its impact is big; call me impressed with this debut by Turkish writer Ayşegül Savaş. (Note: I read an ARC and passages quoted may not be in their final forms.)
I think more and more these days that I should set down some of the facts of my friendship with M., to keep something of this time intact. But stories are reckless things, blind to everything but their own shape. When you tell a story, you set out to leave so much behind. And I have to admit that there is no shape in those long walks and conversations, even if I think of them often.
As Nurunisa (Nunu) tells her story, we learn that she was raised in Instanbul – her father was a poet who died young and her mother never quite got over her widowhood – and in order to escape the sadness of her homelife, Nunu went abroad to study; eventually enrolling in a Masters program in literature in Paris. While in Paris, she meets the famous British author she refers to only as “M.” – a man whose popular English language books about Istanbul had been a favourite of Nunu's, but which her mother mocked as obviously the limited views of a foreigner – and as the pair strike up a friendship and begin to go on long walks around the city and have frequent email conversations, Nunu finds herself carefully choosing and shaping the sorts of stories that she'll tell the author about the reality of having grown up in Istanbul – stories that are often not faithful to that reality, or stories of her mother's that she has co-opted as her own. As the book goes on and Nunu remembers conversations that she had had with her undergrad college roommate and a later live-in boyfriend, she reveals that this cribbing and fibbing is something she has always done – to her roommate, making her mother sound lovely; to her boyfriend, making her sound horrid. The shortest chapter in its entirety:
I'm trying to say that I've tried to tell a story about her many times. But none have resembled my mother.
Because Walking on the Ceiling is a book about writers (Nunu herself becomes a journalist at a travel magazine after she returns to a now volatile Istanbul), there are frequent meditations on the nature of writing and storytelling (which is something I like when it's done well, as it is here). On the one hand, one assumes that M. will appropriate Nunu's stories for his latest “Thracian” novel, but on the other, she's aware of that fact and carefully curates what she shares; it's hard to say who's using whom, and especially when these conversations help Nunu to sort things out in her own mind.
Stories have their own logic. For one thing, a story can only be told once it has an ending. For another, it builds, and then unravels. Each element of a story is essential; its time will come and it will ultimately mean something. In this way, stories are accountable, because they can look you in the eye.
Eventually, each element in this novel reveals its importance along the way, and Nunu's story feels both particular and universal. The fact that this happens in so short a space feels powerful and precise. A lovely read.
I did nearly half of this on audio but despite the wonderful audio narration and the lovely prose, the novel’s meandering self-indulgence defeated me utterly.
I really cannot think of anything good to say about this one, except that it was not very long. It jumped all over the place, and we learned nothing about two magical cities (Paris and Istanbul) nor anything meaningful about Nunu's Turkish culture. The non-linear presentation made the book hard to follow as well. Do yourself a favor and skip this one.
I fell in love with the quiet intensity of Savas's narrator, Nunu. The story is framed by Nunu’s move from Istanbul to Paris, and the friendship she strikes up with an older British author as she skips out on university classes and wanders from café to café. It’s a kind of travel narrative, in the geographical shift between the two cities, in Nunu’s memories of a rapidly shifting and morphing Istanbul, and in her own processing of trauma, loss, and identity. What truly propels the narrative, however, is Nunu’s rich and complex interior – she is sharp, critically observant, quick and blunt in her analysis of the driving motivations of those around her. She’s also deeply imaginative – the book is filled with her poetic articulations of the world around her. Each chapter is short – the longest are 5-6 pages – and vignette-like in its snapshot of Nunu’s past or present, making the book wonderful for shorter or longer sittings. There’s so much to process and return to here. I’m excited to hand-sell it in April, and eagerly await more from this new voice in fiction.
★★✰✰✰ 2 stars
I don't mind plotless novels or meandering stories but there has to be something that holds my attention. Some of my favourite books feature characters with little to no backstory, and simply focus on a time of their life or certain feelings that they experience throughout the course of their life. What I am 'getting at' is that I started Walking on the Ceiling knowing that I wasn't going to get a straightforward story. However, even if I was prepared for a more 'metaphysical' type of novel, I wasn't expecting such a pointlessly self-indulgent narrative.
The nonlinear timeline makes the story all the more irritating. There is this narrator who could as well be nameless given how boring she is. Her only characteristic is that she lies or acts in obscure ways for no reason whats-over. Although she is presented as this deep and complex character who is grappling with her past, she is a self-pitying and singularly uninteresting individual. A few months ago I read The Far Field which featured a very 'remote' main character, but there her self-restraint worked well. I believed her and why she was unable to express herself to others characters and the readers. But here....the protagonist comes across as detestably obnoxious whilst claiming that she is a selfless and 'lost' person. To top it all off she is extremely judgemental towards others and provides no explanation for her 'remoteness'. The advantages she had in life are swept aside to focus on her 'sad' parents. Boo-hoo.
The different timelines are confounding and all this background adds little emotion to the narrative.
The chapters tended to end rather abruptly, often cutting through the flow of the story or interrupting the narrator's contemplation or thoughts.
The thing I did enjoy was the way Istanbul was portrayed. The city seemed far more nuanced than anything else in this novel.
Overall, this was trying too hard to be something abstract and introspective. It would have worked with a compelling narrator; regardless if this character had likeable or dislikable attributes...as long as they were believable and fleshed out their story would have been a cohesive and thoughtful cogitation, rather than this patently elusive mess.
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