The Helmet Of Horror By Victor Pelevin, trans by Andrew Bromfield

Click here for chatroom fun with Monstradamus and the Minotaur
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The Independent Culture

The Helmet of Horror is Victor Pelevin's Gothic-titled riff on the story of the Minotaur, commissioned for Canongate's series of ancient myths updated for modern times. Like any good labyrinth, this novel (or any analysis of it) has several possible points of entry, all of which lead the reader in a circuitous amble around the elusive heart of the maze.

But what, or where, is the maze? Ariadne mischievously calls the labyrinth into being by beginning a "thread" of conversation in a chatroom. We discover that this exchange is not via the internet, but contained inside a mock-up of a chatroom. Others join in, each locked in separate rooms with one door and a computer.

Romeo y Cohiba quickly strikes up an intimate dialogue with IsoldA, who reciprocates his warmth. Both find apparently similar dreamscape labyrinths outside their doors, which they hope will allow for discreet assignations. In keeping with her implied identity as an anchorite, UGLI 666 finds a cathedral through her door, with a penitential labyrinth mapped on its floor. Nutscracker's door opens on to an editing suite containing tapes of candidates pitching for the role of Theseus, the hero who slew the Cretan Minotaur and escaped from the labyrinth with Ariadne's help. Monstradamus quickly establishes his credentials as the Socratic facilitator of this dialogue.

Pelevin's dramatic form has plenty of pace, and enjoys a generally higher quality of exchange than chatroom average. The Helmet of Horror itself is the Minotaur's mask, as described by Ariadne from her dream of an encounter with the beast. Nutscracker elaborates on its similarities to virtual-reality helmets, which spins discussion into the nature of their environments, selves, choices and reality.

If The Helmet of Horror is a myth updated, what fresh face does it present? Steven Sherrill gave us the ancient beast as a cumbersome chef in his excellent novel The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break. Pelevin's flamboyant monster remains a figment, or threat, for the chatroom internees. Meanwhile, the author, like a literary Daedalus, cheekily constructs around them a playful epistemological maze.

The Helmet of Horror is funny, sportive, possibly meaningful, and preoccupied with Pelevin's interest in reality, virtuality and deceptive surfaces - be they the surreal boundaries of his present labyrinth, or the more Potemkin village-like qualities he has found in his native Russia.

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