This book is a total mindf*ck. – Thoughts on The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin (translated from Russian by Andrew Bromfield)

Here’s the thing: I don’t know what to feel about this book. It frustrates me; it frustrates me to no end after reading. You see, I didn’t get it. No, that’s not true, because I did, really, generally get it. But that’s the thing, see – it’s the surface things that I understood, but for anyone who’s ever read Victor Pelevin, there’s always more to his books, and The Helmet of Horror is no exception. Merely understanding does not cut it.

So why am I so frustrated? Why don’t I just altogether hate the book and be done with it? Because it’s so good, that’s why – it is dark, it is funny, it’s subtle, it’s shrewd. It loses you and then pulls you back again and then loses you again, but this time it is you who forces yourself back in it. It is a labyrinthine book about labyrinths – actual and imagined, in all shapes and sizes and meaning – and nothing gets crazier than that.

Pelevin’s modern (and nothing says modern more than a chatroom conversation by virtual strangers, from different backgrounds and with different issues in life) adaptation of the story of the labyrinth, the Minotaur (half man, half bull), Ariadne and Theseus, The Helmet of Horror gets weirder and darker and seemingly confounded as it progresses. It reminds me of the movie Saw, only minus the bloodshed and more of a psychological thriller of sorts. “I shall construct a labyrinth in which I can lose myself, together with anyone who tries to find me,” so it begins, opening up a cyberworld devoid of time and true identity, and touches on aspects of religion, philosophy, politics, technology, even love. “In fact, the whole cycle is simply the circulation of now in various states of mind, in the same way that water can be ice, or the sea, or thirst.”

And yet, with all that heaviness, Pelevin nevertheless threw in some irony and humor for good measure – moments that allowed for one to breathe in-between lines. Mind you, though, these were inserted by Pelevin in the long-winded conversations so discreetly, so as not to mess with the whole somber, mysterious mood of the book. A sampling:

“Dead people don’t hang around in chat rooms.”

“People go bald because they have no choice, but they shave their heads out of self-respect.”

“If you had genuinely free choice, the results could be pretty miserable.”

“If we start worrying about spies, pretty soon the world will be full of them.”

And my favorite, on the subject of free will – not only because the analogy is funny, but because it’s so true, too:

“Life’s like falling off a roof. Can you stop on the way? No. Can you turn back? No. Can you fly off sideways? Only in an advertisement for underpants specially made for jumping off roofs. all free will means is you can choose whether to fart in mid-flight or wait till you hit the ground. And that’s what all the philosophers argue about.”

This book deserves a re-read – one day, when I’m ready enough to devour the book entirely, and not just nibble on the surface.  And if this is how Pelevin leaves me after reading his books – babbling and confused – the by Jove, bring it on.

PS. The title isn’t a quote from the book – I couldn’t find one (or if there was one, I’d have missed it) to fully encompass what the book is. Also, it really is a mindfuck.

PPS. Look out for Romeo-y-Cohiba and IsoldA – they’re my favorite of the bunch of online misfits.


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