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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Ahmet Altan

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To purchase Endgame

Title: Endgame
Author: Ahmet Altan
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 396 pages
Original in: Turkish
Availability: Endgame - US
Endgame - UK
Endgame - Canada
Endgame - India
Scrittore e assassino - Italia
  • Turkish title: Son Oyun
  • Translated by Alexander Dawe

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Our Assessment:

B : leisurely-paced; more atmosphere than suspense

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 19/9/2015 Andrew Finkel
The Independent . 20/8/2015 Jonathan Gibbs
The New Yorker . 29/5/2017 .
The Washington Post . 28/4/2017 N.S. McNamara

  From the Reviews:
  • "Endgame is a love story, or at least the tale of an existentialist amorist who lives for the moment -- be that in a chatroom or a bedroom, or with the one word of a text message that seals his fate. He discusses his dilemma at length with the Great Novelist in the Sky, an even more masterful manipulator of character and events. But the book is definitely not a roman à clef of Turkey’s murky politics. (...) It is all very serious but also great fun." - Andrew Finkel, The Guardian

  • "This isn't a plot-heavy book -- that's the "existential" aspect, I suppose -- but unfortunately this also leads to long repetitive passages of dialogue, longer ones of writerly rumination, and pages full of text messages between Zuhal and the writer-lover-killer that are eminently skimmable, if not skippable (.....) (T)his doesn't seem like the best book with which to introduce him to readers in English. Its politics is local, and won't help a foreigner understand the deeper workings of the country, and while the sexual intrigue does carry across, I can't help thinking how Georges Simenon would have rattled off this kind of story in 150 pages. At more than twice that length, Endgame drags." - Jonathan Gibbs, The Independent

  • "The novel makes too much use of shopworn archetypes -- a seductive housekeeper, a self-sacrificing prostitute -- but Altan deftly pushes the tropes of detective fiction into existentialist territory." - The New Yorker

  • "Although it offers an implicit critique of Turkeyís corrupt justice system, Endgame is also comic and charmingly absurd, largely due to the reckless efforts of its characters to get even. As in many Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino movies, the levity isnít in the bloodshed; itís in the unexpected particulars that decorate each grisly situation." - Nathan Scott McNamara, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Endgame already begins with the mix of lethargy and being-on-edge that marks the entire novel. The opening line is: "The town was sleeping", but on the same page the narrator reveals: "I had just taken a life". He's a novelist, who came to this out-of-the-way, quiet, idyllic -- at least on the surface -- seaside town to write a book about murder -- but apparently: "I turned out to be the killer".
       He's an outsider in this sleepy town, grudgingly and gradually accepted as part of it as he rents a house and interacts with the locals. The town seems more or less cut off from the world, and has its own power dynamics. Ruling the roost is the mayor, Mustafa, a smart, wealthy local who studied in the United States for a while (as several of the locals have; this is far from a hick town) and could easily work his way up in the Turkish political hierarchy but prefers to remain the near-absolute ruler of his hometown.
       Flying in, the novelist met Zuhal, and begins an affair of sorts with her. She is also still in love with Mustafa -- and he with her -- and the tug of war between the two men over her is one of the main sources of tension in the story (enhanced by the fact that Mustafa doesn't seem, for the most part, to be aware that the novelist is his rival). Zuhal drifts back and forth between them; with the novelist, much of their affair is virtual, online.
       The novelist and Zuhal aren't the only ones to lead a hidden life online; as he discovers, many of the locals lead other fantasy-lives online. He seeks out their chatrooms and engages with them, under other identities, to pry out more from them -- enjoying playing with them, and learning of these other and under-sides to them. The contrast between real and virtual worlds -- of various sorts, not just the online kind -- is a repeatedly addressed in the novel, the novelist-as-creator-of-virtual-worlds in his books very much at the intersection of these. And he also repeatedly engages with the ultimate creator himself -- 'God' (and he's not beyond criticizing his workmanship ...)
       Of course, real and virtual worlds do differ, in significant respects, and the escape of being someone else online can serve a variety of purposes. So also with the narrator and Zuhal:

     She was hiding me from people in her real life.
     For her I was a phantom.
     I was nothing but words flashing on a screen late at night.
     We were nothing but words.
     Now we were both worried that reality wouldn't live up to the letters on the screen.
     We shared a life that was made up of letter and we were afraid to jeopardise the virtual world if we mixed it with the real. Maybe we wanted nothing more than to remain there on the screen.
       But no worries, Altan's novel isn't mere metaphysical thriller. The narrator's closer-to-home -- in his new home -- reality packs quite a punch too. Indeed, it's not too long before someone is shot, execution-style, right in front of his eyes.
       Altan handles the novelist's gradual assimilation among the townsfolk nicely. They're suspicious of the stranger, and sound him out in a variety of ways. Mustafa befriends him -- a useful, but also dangerous patron to have -- and that has its advantages. But the novelist knows he will never really fit in -- and also that he'll never completely understand all the subtleties of the local conflicts.
       Complicating matters is a treasure supposedly buried in the town. It's:
a treasure that probably didn't even exist, a treasure that no one knew what to do with if they even found it, which was something that people never openly discussed.
       But it certainly heats the local passions, and when the mayor closes off access to the church where it is supposedly buried it's clear his power-play will have grave consequences. As one local realizes:
     'Oh God help us,' said Remzi. 'Mustafa Bey is going to dig up the church himself. There's going to be a war in this town.'
       The novelist tends to go along with the flow, annoyed to be drawn into some of the local business but realizing also he must tread carefully. One area he doesn't tread all too carefully around at all is women, as his largely virtual affair with Zuhal apparently isn't nearly enough for him. He enjoys the occasional services of the favored town prostitute, too -- and another important woman also sets her eyes on him, so that he finds himself in the perhaps not ideal position where:
     I am sleeping with the women of the town's two most powerful and dangerous men.
       The tension in town increases, as does the violence. The novelist prefers to be an observer, but inevitably finds himself repeatedly drawn into the fray, an unwilling participant
     This absurd place made everything seem all the more absurd.
     And I was now part of the madness.
       Of course, when Mustafa gives him a gun, he doesn't say no.
       Zuhal remains a constant temptation, and he tries to fulfill her wishes. Away from the town, there seems the possibility of something more ... but of course he returns to the town -- and for all her love of him and what he might offer, the pull of Mustafa remains great on her.
       Altan does indulge in rather a great deal of somewhat airy thought, about reality and (run-away) imagination especially, along the way -- even Mustafa at one point says: "this town is my novel". Indeed, Endgame has to bear the weight of a lot of writing-about-writing, but much of this is quite well done -- if a bit drawn-out. If not quite balancing it out, the tension -- and violence -- along the way does help as well; Endgame is slow-burn, but it is a thriller, and reasonably effective as such. Meanwhile, the most impressive aspect of the novel is the small-town life Altan evokes, with all its personal and political dynamics -- on the surface and, often so very differently, behind the scenes.
       True, even the novelist wonders:
     Who would want to read about all the nonsense that goes on in this town ? Even I can't work it out. What would a reader make of it ?
       Yet puzzling over much of this is quite fun. It's leisurely-paced, to be sure, and occasionally seems to be treading water, but Endgame is a solid pass-time read, with some nice depth to it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 8 April 2017

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Endgame: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Turkish author Ahmet Altan was born in 1950.

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© 2017 the complete review

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