Rush-That-Speaks (rushthatspeaks) wrote,
Rush-That-Speaks
rushthatspeaks

The Helmet of Horror, Victor Pelevin (365 Books, Day 310)

Based on this and The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, Victor Pelevin ought to be a goddamn rockstar. Maybe he is and I just haven't heard?

Seriously, though, this is a retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur as an internet chatroom. Thread started by Ariadne, of course.

This is the kind of book about which I make incoherent flaily-hands. I wrote a short story some time ago called 'The Ninety-Two Conceits of the Minotaur', which I need to recall from the market I have to admit to myself is never going to get back to me and send somewhere else, and which is a postmodernist reworking of this myth. I'm fairly fond of Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves*, which is a postmodernist reworking of this myth. Maybe there is something about it which attracts them. At any rate, what I'm saying here is that this is a story I care about deeply, which has already been done pretty well and which I spent a while doing as well as I could myself, and Pelevin's version is totally unlike anything I have ever seen or imagined.

The people who are contributing to the chatroom introduce themselves one by one. They write that they have all found themselves in identical keyboard-equipped bedrooms. Their nicknames are preset, and their conversations are heavily moderated: swearing and any references to real names or occupations are replaced by xxxxing. Outside each bedroom is a different portion of the labyrinth, with personalized symbology appropriate to the person whose room it is, so that you get the bit that looks like an old maze screensaver (all brick walls and felt fake rats), the bit that's a church full of displays of every labyrinth that has ever appeared in a church, the bit that's just a bedroom where Ariadne dreams of metaphysics and paradoxes.

There are two obvious questions: which is Theseus? And which is the Minotaur? A non-obvious question: do Theseus and the Minotaur know who they are themselves, if this is an enacted myth, where ordinary people take on the preset roles?

This being a Pelevin novel, the attempts to find out ramble through surrealism, pop culture references, parable, something I swear is Borges' garden of forking paths, discussion of emoticons, discussion of where everyone's handles come from, roundabout revelation of past lives and histories, and dirty jokes.

The thing is, the answers aren't what you expect. I don't care what you're expecting. It's not that. This novel is intentionally trying to confuse you-- that is part of what labyrinths are for-- and it's very hard to write about, therefore, because a lot of the point is the ways it's confusing, the blind alleys and wrong turnings Pelevin works so hard at setting up. I don't want to write the kind of analysis that pins it all down on a cork-board. But I can also see this being a book that is confusing as fuck to a lot of people. It would probably have confused me if it weren't one of my central stories.

I recommend it very highly. Remember that people do not ever have to tell the truth on the internet; remember not to get too attached to any single theory; and above all remember who made the thread and notice who carries it, concentrate on what actually happens in the myth, and it should all make perfect sense.

Pelevin is brilliant. Seriously, I need to read everything he's ever written immediately.


* I'm sorry! I don't know how to make the word house blue! I know it existentially should be.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
Tags: 365 books, author: pelevin victor, genre: f/sf
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