Skip to main content

The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin

Many years ago (okay, more like 6, but who's counting?) I began a crusade to be the biggest and best contributor to the Waterstone's website booksellers' reviews pages. Before my marriage and subsequent name change, I got to be a top 25 reviewer (and it was chuffin' easy - ironically, the competition was limper than the divisional manager's handshake) with reviews of my favourite authors, stuff I'd read at university, and so on. Is there a point here? Only a very inane one, and a tenuous link to this blog it is. I was perusing my work yesterday after coming to a standstill on the thorny issue of what to read next. Despite the piles of things arranged carefully in order of importance, I hate to be confined to what I said I would do a few days / weeks / years ago (hence the near constant state of irritation my wife finds herself in) so I was fishing for inspiration. Thankfully, I came on this old review of "The Sacred Book of the Werewolf" by Pelevin:
'Much like Will Self, old Victor makes me come over all funny. Tales of zen artistry, of minimalist beauty and chuffin' great werewolves (and other anthropomorphic goodies) are liberally laced with acerbic Russian wit and wisdom, and this is no exception. In fact, it's exceptional. Again, when I look to my literary firmament, Pelevin and Self are having a tea party and are using the Big Dipper to fish more mescalin ampules from the freezer. I love this guy!' 
I have an old but cherished proof copy from 2005 of Pelevin's shot at the Canongate re-tellings of classical mythology. In his version of Theseus and the Minotaur, the narrative follows a series of exchanges in a chat room between 8 people ostensibly trapped in a labyrinth who have access only to a computer terminal in their cells by which to communicate with one another. Following the first posting by Ariadne on the thread (ho ho! Pelevin vascillates between puns and cerebral punches), these 8 people, perhaps representing aspects of a single person, debate the verisimillitude of the world and of one's perceptions thereof, and bandy about possible avenues of escape.
Just who is the minotaur? Where is Theseus? What of the dwarves with hats and the occipital braids? And what exactly is the Helmet of Horror? All will not exactly be revealed (for who can reveal such essential truths when existence is just the reflection in Tarkovsky's Mirror?) but Pelevin goes quite a way to positing workable theories, albeit cribbed from his undoubtedly encyclopaedic knowledge of classical and modern philosophy, liberally sprinkled with wit both sophisticated and vulgar.
There's no-one quite like Pelevin, so it's difficult to find a yardstick by which to measure what he does. Maybe it's enough to say that the furrow he plows is his own (or in this case, borrowed from Borges) and that one can only marvel at its course with no hope of repeating it. There are so many great lines in this book that it would be difficult to pick just one as an example, so instead, here is the quote with which the book opens:
I shall construct a labyrinth in which I can lose myself. together with anyone who tries to find me...

Comments

How's about that then?

A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson

Ah, what would be a review penned by yours truly without some sort of grovelling apology at the outset? A better review no doubt, but that aside I can't help but continue the tiresome tradition with an apology. Sorry to my regular robotic readers (hi bots!) but I have been very neglectful of the blog of late, having been tied up with my pursuit of a broader spectrum of dilettantism; I've been taking part in a number of MOOCs offered by various HEIs on the FutureLearn platform. Worth checking out if you ask me.

(Subtle enough plug, you think?)
Anyway, the break afforded by a foray into further education has proved something of a test for Jasper Gibson and his fiction. In truth, it took me a little while to remember what exactly the novel was about, who was in it, and how I felt about the whole thing. Instant alarm bells. Of course, having had a break, I'd had a good crack at filling my head with a whole bunch of other things worth remembering, so maybe it all just got squeeze…

Open Door by Iosi Havilio

*Shame Klaxon*
I am ashamed to admit it but I know next to nothing about Borges. I know the names of his books. I know he crops up almost without fail when conversations include literature from South America. I know his words book-end so many novels that I have that habitual proving-my-bold-assertion-mind-blankness which means my brain knows it to be true and won't humour your scepticism with an example*. And I know it's likely the biggest single lacuna in my entire reading history**.
So you may imagine my lack of surprise, on finishing this novel and reading the afterword by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, lecturer at Birkbeck College, London, and author of works on the history and politics of Latin America, that Borges pops up, within three lines of text. Three lines! He wastes no time does Oscar. Of course, my shame bristled and I was ready to adopt the usual casual hostility to something of which I was ignorant. But straight away, I understood what he was saying. I have often consid…

UnAmerican Activities by James Miller

I don't think I was asked to honour the old convention that a freebie necessitates an honest if gently favourable review (at least I can find no written proof). I will however, name-check the generous (and possibly over-optimistic) @TheWorkshyFop, editorial director of the independent British publisher, Dodo Ink, from whose proof boxes of new November lead titles this one arrived. Thank you, sir!
I recall James Miller, specifically Lost Boys, from the dim and distant past. It may have been a commission for Waterstones Books Quarterly, or perhaps I was doing a solid for the Little, Brown sales rep. Regardless, I remember nothing about the book except being underwhelmed. From reading old reviews, it seems it had the coat-tails of the contemporaneous zeitgeist in its teeth, but one slightly savage Guardian review* points out it was pretty badly done. This might explain why I remember very little, perhaps proving Auden's assertion that, "some books are undeservedly forgotten; …