Adventures in Reading


The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin
January 17, 2008, 10:08 am
Filed under: book reviews, fiction

I shall construct a labyrinth in which I can lose myself, together with anyone who tries to find me — who said this and about what?” From Victor Pelevin’s The Helmet of Horror.

I have discovered my first disappointment in the Canongate Myths series: Victor Pelevin’s The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Pelevin’s novel is an awkward mixture of Borges The Garden of Forking Paths and the movies The Matrix and The Cube. All of this is relayed to the reader as a chat room conversation. At least eight screennames exist in the novel (and a ninth does have a one line appearance towards the conclusion) and various conversations flow through the novel.

Pelevin’s approach to the Myth is entirely different than any of the other authors’s books I have read so far in the series. While the previous novels have covered a wide array from a line to line explication to a modern day lesbian romance, Pelevin’s The Helmet of Horror provides a modern technological look at a more theoretical approach to the novel. This in itself is not bad, though I admittedly dred text message like readings [1], and Pelevin certainly goes out of his way to ensure that the conversations are easy to follow. However, all of the screennames represented over stereotyped cariacatures and while the dialog was not necessarily predictable as a technically challeneged person I found it tremendously uninteresting.

For example, one of the screennames is UGLI 666 and she represents rather extremist Christian attitudes. She accuses other members of the chat room of sinning and praises god and believes that all the users are in a labyrinth as punishment for their sins. The point UGLI 666 makes are obvious but with seven other screennames equally representing some exaggerated role the dialog quickly becomes tiresome.

To Pelevin’s credit, it was a fascinating idea and perhaps if fewer characters had existed and they had been more fleshed out it would have been more interesting. The basic idea driving the plot are that eight people somehow have mysteriously wound up in identical rooms and each has a computer to communicate with each other (though the computer seems to serve no other purpose). Outside of each of these rooms, each person has an individual labyrinth. The conversations exchanged largely describe the individual’s situations and sharing ideas on what exactly is going on.

If it had not been part of the Myths series and I had only read the jacket cover (and flipped through) The Helmet of Horror I would not have picked it up. In fact, I have had it sitting around for ages and have been avoiding it for this very reason. However, I do not want to whole heartedly condemn Pelevin or his novel because I knew from the start that chances are it was not going to be something that hugely interested me. If you are into technological, cyber age thrillers and mythology give the novel a try, but if you are simply a myth lover like myself feel free to pass this one up.

[1] Interestingly enough, when you look at a book written in text message/chat format it really is not that different than reading a play. Reading plays, however, do not bother me. Perhaps if the chat format utilized more of the dramatic non-dialog style I would appreciate it more.

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