Victor Pelevin: The Helmet of Horror

The Helmet of Horror - Cover Image

Author: Victor Pelevin

Title: The Helmet of Horror

ISBN: 1841957054

Pages: 274

Since his emergence in the early 1990’s, Victor Pelevin has remained a controversial and contradictorily presence on the modern Russian literary scene. As a powerful, profound and immensely popular writer, Pelevin was hailed by many as the voice of Russia’s generation X and the new wunderkind of Russian letters. The literary establishment, however, were slower to acknowledge his craft, coming as it did in books that had elements of science fiction and which tackled the perilous and surreal nature of the consumer society that exploded in the former Soviet Union following the collapse of communism.

Given his career path to date, Pelevin must have been fairly high up Canongate’s wish list of authors to take part in their ambitious Myths series. Fortunately for them, he not only accepted, but has delivered a marvellous, contemporary re-telling of the ancient Greek tale of Theseus and the Minotaur.

Pelevin’s version begins with a group of people waking to find themselves in what appear to be identical locked hotel rooms, each with a computer terminal linked to the same internet chat room. As they start to communicate they quickly realise that certain physical aspects of their environment can be controlled by making requests on-line – compartments with food can be made to open, and the door to their room unlocked to reveal they are trapped in different parts of the same giant maze. As they start to work together they begin to understand that each of them has information that can be used to work out where they are and how they can escape. In particular the mysterious Adriana, who initiates their communication, discloses detailed dreams she has had about the maze and it’s Minotaur who wears the Helmet of Horror. As we are dragged further into the story, we are faced with every increasing questions of which direction takes us to the truth. Who is wearing the Helmet of Horror? The Minotaur, Adriana, or are we all? Does the maze exist in reality, in our minds or are we trapped in the helmet itself?

The Helmet of Horror is written as a single internet chat thread, spread over several days. Whilst there is the occasional emoticon and text speak abbreviation used, presumably to piss of his beard stroking critics, the text actually reads more like a play, and a damn good one at that. Pelevin weaves myth with modern culture and neatly stitches it together with elements of Christian belief and cyber-age Descartesian philosophy. As with most of Pelevin’s work, he poses many questions, but prefers to allow us to make our own conclusions.

I don’t read much contemporary fiction, so I’m not really in a position to judge where Pelevin stands amongst modern authors, but if there are writers out there more inventive and intelligent than this modern Russian master, they must belong to a very select group indeed.

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~ by ThatCricketBlogger on 1 November, 2007.

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