Books Magazine

Book Review: Honour by Elif Shafak

By Pamelascott





PAGES: 352


YEAR: 2013

Honour is a library book. I’d never heard of Shafak before. I chose this at random from the library shelves and the blurb intrigued me so I added it to my pile.


‘My mother died twice. I promised myself I would not let her story be forgotten . . .’

Leaving her twin sister behind, Pembe leaves Turkey for love – following her husband Adem to London. There the Topraks hope to make new lives for themselves and their children. Yet, no matter how far they travel, the traditions and beliefs the Topraks left behind stay with them – carried in the blood.

Their eldest is the boy Iskender, who remembers Turkey and feels betrayal deeper than most. His sister is Esma, who is loyal and true despite the pain and heartache. And, lastly, Yunus, who was born in London, and is shy and different.

Trapped by the mistakes of the past, the Toprak children find their lives shattered and transformed by a brutal act of murder . . .


My mother died twice. I promised myself I would not let her story be forgotten, but I could never find the time or the will or the courage to write about it. That is, until recently. I don’t think I’ll ever become a real writer and that’s quite all right now. I’ve reached an age at which I’m more at peace with my limitations and failures. But I had to tell the story, even if only to one person. I had to send it into some corner of the universe where it could float freely, away from us. I owed it to Mum, this freedom. And I had to finish it this year. Before he was released from prison.


I thought Honour was great. Shafak writing is rich, powerful and vivid. I found some of the events in Honour incredibly sad. I really liked the characters. Shafak is another writer I want to read more of.

STRUCTURE: There are a lot of time shifts in Honour. I’ve read a lot of novels that use this structure recently and I really enjoy it. Honour opens in the 90’s in London. Esma’s brother has just been released from prison after serving time for murder. The rest of the novel shifts back in forth in time and tells the story of the birth of Esma’s mother Pembe and the events that led up to Esma’s brother being sent to prison. The narrative takes place in London and Turkey. I thought the structure worked great. As in other novels written this way Shafak reveals the story in little dribs and drabs. I was compelled to read on, to reach the point where it all came together. The story is told from the perspective of different characters. Despite opening in the first person the rest of the novel is written in the third person. I enjoyed the shifts in perspective and Shafak makes this work really well. I really enjoyed the chapters about Pembe’s twin sister, Jamilla who lives in the mountains of Turkey and is known as the Virgin Midwife, a sort of witch doctor.  I also liked the chapters that were extracts of Iskender’s prison diary and thought it was good to see inside his head and gain some understanding his motivation.

PLACE: Honour is set in London and different parts of Turkey. The story spans over twenty years so Shafak shows us London in different decades. I thought Shafak did a great job of bringing these different eras and cultures to life. The chapters set in different parts of Turkey were very good. I was fascinated by the little glimpses into Pembe and her family’s culture which is so vastly different than my own. Pembe’s husband leaves her for another woman. He is a coward for deserting his family. Pembe is to blame for not keeping her husband happy and at home with her. I really enjoyed reading about the family living in London and how their heritage, culture and beliefs were so different than the people around them. This created a very rich, memorable setting.

CHARACTERISATION: I thought the characterisation in Honour was very good. All of the characters were very real and believable. They were alive and stepped off the page. I got a bit confused about the names though. All of the characters seemed to have two of three different names. Iskender is known as Alex. Jamilla is also Enough Beauty. I got a bit confused and thought who’s so and so a few times. I think this could have been handled better. My favorite character was Pembe. My heart ached for her. Adem loved Jamilla but married her because Jamilla was promised to someone else. Adem treats her like dirt. She’s a bowed down, fragile, frail little mouse. I wanted to hug her and beat Adem with a stick.

PLOT: Honour would appear not to be particularly original. There have been millions of novels about murder written. The way Shafak deals with subject matter and the way she executes this makes Honour dazzling. Iskender commits murder but his misguided motivations are steeped in his heritage and culture. There is an unexpected twist in Honour about three quarters of the way through that I never saw coming and totally blew me away. Shafak makes it clear from page one that Iskender murdered someone. There are hints early on of who his victim is. This should have lessened the impact of the actual crime but didn’t. The unexpected twist helped as well. I read the last quarter with my slack jaw hitting the floor.




Sleep, Pale Sister by Joanne Harris (library book)


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