IN BRIEF

FICTION

The Life of Insects by Victor Pelevin, trs Andrew Bromfield, Harbord Publishing pounds 8.99.

Victor Pelevin first captured our attention two years ago with Omon Ra, a stunning space fantasy about Real Soviet Men conquering the psychic void of the Communist future. His second novel inhabits another brilliantly conceived space, a rundown Soviet holiday-camp on the Black Sea where a cast of racketeers, mystics, dope-heads and prostitutes interchange with the most repulsive specimens of insect life.

The holiday atmosphere highlights the darkness of this world, the tiny insect eyes, the powerful jaws dripping blood and ripping off old skin, the capacity to kill or suck dry, to be blown away or crushed.

Their stories are revealed in flashes of light like the strobes on the holiday-camp's dance-floor, which reveal not people but a heap of dead statues from the country's Gorky parks and pioneer camps. A trio of mosquito gangsters preparing for a big scam take "samples" from "clients" and worry about losing touch with the "great Russian mother-skin". Marina, the recently landed ant-girl, dressed identically to all the other recently landed ant-girls, holes in her blouse where the wings were, fights for food and waits for a warrior-ant to come along and impregnate her. A father dung- beetle initiates his son into dung-beetledom by handing him lumps of shit for his own sacred sphere, then dies when the ball becomes big enough for the boy to roll himself.

Pelevin won Russia's 1993 Little Booker Prize with his first collection of stories. Before becoming a writer, he worked as an engineer on a project to protect MiG fighter planes from insect interference in tropical conditions. The Life of Insects marvels at entomology - the peculiar light-effects of the moth world, the mosquito's efficient proboscis and inconveniently arranged mouth organs, the bat's lethally accurate radar.

Frissons of fear alternate with laughter, and any ideas about a reasonless, emotionless insect existence are subverted by scenes of exhausting physical endurance, painful isolation and grotesque humour. Two dope-head hemp- bugs philosophically admire their stash; next moment they are packed into a joint by a mosquito and expire in an explosion of pops. Burrowing through the earth to his new life when he will sing, a cicada discovers American trainers, a huge toilet with a long-distance flush control, and "a girl friend whom he unearths completely for rare conversations on subjects close to his heart". There is an aching eroticism about the account of a fly and a mosquito mating, all swelling probosces, damp membranous abdomens and trembling wings.

Andrew Bromfield's fluent translation captures the spikey imagery of the oppressive grey holiday camp, its back turned to the sea "as though at the behest of some crazed fairy-tale conjuror"; the woman in white nurse's coat sitting beside a set of weighing scales that looked like a small gallows; the moon as "Lenin's light-bulb"; the dance-floor from a height like a large open flower, constantly changing its colour.

Pelevin has rediscovered Karel Capek's classic Insect Play and rewritten it as a delirious cyberpunk fantasy about a nightmare future Russia. Like Capek's marching soldiers, smug burghers and philistines, Pelevin's creatures scurry with effortless ease between the human and insect worlds, showing us the blood-lust that makes human intelligence hideous and hinting at other lives being lived elsewhere.

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments