In the longest night of the year, 21st of December, we witness a ballroom where a farewell party is held to honour the retirement of an old, renowned composer, Prof. Deniz İlter from the academy, at a palace by the Bosphorus. Whilst we see the event through the eyes of his son, Kaya, a woman called Gece -meaning “night” in Turkish- enters the ballroom and all the scope changes entirely. Gece, portrayed as an unusual, bold woman, is also unlike anyone or anything in the party now. She confidently walks into the ballroom in a simple black dress and flat black shoes, wearing one pearl as a necklace. She is the only woman without heels and make-up and the only woman dressed casually in this glorious palace party. All the people and the party become a decor behind Gece in Kaya’s eyes the moment he notices her; he tells us about her, her peculiar ways, every step she takes in the ballroom even if he doesn’t look at her and they don’t exchange a glance.
It is not long till we sense that the composer’s family has a secret that Gece is somehow related to. Even if he is the narrator, Kaya is totally ignorant of the secret the reader senses, in the same way that he has no idea why Gece suddenly left him years ago in the midst of their passionate romance.
A precious antique necklace owned by the composer’s wife, originally belonging to the composer’s well-known family and given to brides from one generation to another, gets lost, and after an announcement, the music and dance stops with the intervention of the guards who are searching for the invaluable piece.
The next chapter, narrated by a different person (Aydın), opens with a young woman in her early twenties, in a white night-gown, in a white hospital room in a small seashore town. She was found in the sea and she can’t remember anything regarding her past, except that she feels sure a small female infant left in the sea is in danger. The area the young woman was found -both inside the sea and around the seashore- is thoroughly searched, but no trace about the identity of the young woman or of an infant can be found. They name the amnesic woman Nehir.
The narrator, Aydın, who we don’t know whether a p. or a p. (whether a “policeman” or a “psychoanalyst”) is, tries to enlighten the case, and behaves as a p. although he is a p. The story is read differently in each case. Even after several decades, Aydın has an extreme, almost obsessional curiosity about Nehir and a mysterious rich lady who at times visits the hospital and leaves things for Nehir, although she never meets her in person. Aydın knows that the lady is lying in her claim to have no idea about the identity of Nehir, and due to a passion he shares about music, figures out who the lady was in her youth: A talented pianist who left her career after marriage and children.
As the story progresses, the mystery behind Gece’s story is also revealed. Leyla and Nehir turn out to be different parts of Gece’s past. The reason why Gece left Kaya without an explanation is clear to none of the narrators but the reader and Aydın: Long before she met Kaya, Gece had an affair with the composer who was her university professor when she was studying cello at the conservatory. Whether Gece was really pregnant by the composer or the fetus in the amniotic fluid -the water, as claimed by Nehir- was actually her own symbolic self remains unclear. But we learn that the composer, fearing there might be a listener, claimed to have not touched her when Gece told him that she was pregnant, and failed to support her at a time she was dismissed both from the university and from her family home.
The mysterious lady, Dolunay, who was the composer’s wife, is one of the female voices silenced in the novel by the male power, embodied in the invaluable necklace that represents the power and patriarchy of the well-known family of the composer. İnci -Pearl- is the name Nehir/Gece calls the lost girl; and it is not till the end when we learn that İnci is also the name -the last name- lost by Dolunay to the composer with marriage. Aydın, who is also at the ball, approaches Dolunay at the end of the novel and tells her that he thinks she threw the necklace into the sea and she feels relieved to do so.
The story is haunted by a ten year old girl with wet hair and bare feet, always dressed in a white night gown, who only the composer can see, and who the girl follows everywhere for years; and a famous song by the composer, “Kar” (Snow), which the composer made for the memory of his dead daughter from Dolunay, Kar. There are several interpretations about who the phantom girl might be.
The novel is centred around a feeling of loss for each character and each chapter is narrated by a different person, but music or/and the rhythm of the story that the chain of events is interwoven with at the background is also a character. Kaya is a violinist himself and meets Gece when they are playing in an orchestra together. They quickly distinguish each other’s playing in an orchestra; and it is not coincidental that Prof. Deniz İlter’s helping Gece with cello at conservatory evolves into a romantic relationship. The composer’s remarks about why Gece’s over-passion to play cello holds her back to actualize her best playing, how and why she is nearly there but can’t pass the threshold, and almost all other points that touch music in some way intertwine with sexuality throughout the novel and there are many passages that we can’t really make sure whether it is music or sex or emotional life or all that is mentioned.
Like music, there is also a strong metaphor of water all over the novel in different forms; seas, oceans, lakes, frozen ponds, fast rivers, rains, snows and pearls.
Besides various meanings it represents, water also stands for emotional life, and, -at times- flow of (emotional) life; and learning to swim is likened to learning to survive emotionally in the subtext of the novel. Along with the statement “One does not drown because s/he gets into water; one drowns because s/he cannot get out of the water.”, learning to swim is also about coming to terms with water rather than fighting and trying to overcome water -or, whatever we may call problems or obstacles-. To give an example from the novel, water becomes hostile and pulls you down, if you see it as something to overcome, but it holds you up and its force becomes a support for your movement by learning to get along with water and swim. Gece’s resistance against learning to swim or even getting into water as a passive defence against her father’s preferance to spend time with his new family and other kids rather than Gece, is also a symbolic relationship with water (as for all characters) in the subtext of the novel and it is not coincidental that Gece chooses to drawn herself rather than any other method when she decides to commit suicide. In the scenes she is talking about a living being in the water, after she walks into the water submissively, it is unclear if the person referred to is a possible fetus in her womb at the time or her own symbolic self/child or her bodily self in the sea, or all.
The central character of the novel is Gece, even if she is not one of the narrators directly and we don’t get to hear her adult voice speak from first person. Different parts of her life are narrated to us from different people and it is only the reader who has a somewhat fuller sense of her fragmented reality. Yet, we are still left with a curiosity rather than a feeling of knowing her at the end of the novel.
“Gece”, meaning “night”, is also the name given to “ball” in Turkish, as balls are held at night-time. At the end of the first chapter, Kaya approaches Gece who is watching the dark sea at the terrace by herself and asks her why she left him about twenty years ago. Whilst Kaya repeats his question and Gece remains silent, music coming from the ball stops and an announcement about the lost necklace is made. Gece never looks at Kaya or utters a word.
At the end of the novel, we go back to the scene of the ball in which the music and dance was stopped and Gece keeps looking at the sea without saying a word to Kaya. Then a new announcement is made and the music starts again. The last sentence of the novel, “Gece devam ediyor” (Gece/Night goes on) can be understood in two ways. At the very last chapter of the novel, which is composed of few sentences, Gece turns his eyes to Kaya and says that she will not speak. Since the beginning of the novel, this is the first time Gece looks at Kaya and these are the first words she utters, and Kaya says he doesn’t know whether it is hope or hopelessness he feels as a reaction to these words, as he has been desperate to hear a word from Gece for more than two decades now. Music is heard from the ball downstairs; and “Gece/Night goes on”, which may either mean that the party (gece) is going on downstairs, or that Gece is now continuing to speak, or, both.