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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Hall of the
Singing Caryatids

Victor Pelevin

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To purchase The Hall of the Singing Caryatids

Title: The Hall of the Singing Caryatids
Author: Victor Pelevin
Genre: Story
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 105 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Hall of the Singing Caryatids - US
The Hall of the Singing Caryatids - UK
The Hall of the Singing Caryatids - Canada
The Hall of the Singing Caryatids - India
  • Russian title: Зал поющих кариатид
  • Translated by Andrew Bromfield

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Our Assessment:

B : vividly imagined, sharply satirical, and typical Pelevin -- but that's all

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The National A 23/11/2011 Scott Esposito

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) brilliant fable of a Russia oversaturated with "semiotic signs", a skewing of a country where rhetoric -- and not actual substance -- is most often the locus of communication. (...) As the story proceeds, Pelevin continues to elaborate these relationships, festooning his schematic with oddball details that ultimately make his story satisfyingly ambiguous. Part of what lets Pelevin go beyond mere satire is his ability to say just enough." - Scott Esposito, The National

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Hall of the Singing Caryatids, published as a 'New Directions Pearl' -- their attractive little series of perfectly (i.e. pocket-)sized works of fiction --, is a story taken from a larger Russian collection of Pelevin's, and though it runs to over a hundred pages has a story feel to it: a clever idea amusingly spun out, but ultimately a bit insubstantial as a stand-alone, even at such drawn-out length.
       The story follows Lena, beginning with an audition she goes for. She isn't quite sure exactly what sort of nightclub-type act she's auditioning for -- though, for example: "Lena had been aware that she would have to sing naked" at the try-out -- but she does get the gig. It is a type of nightclub that she's hired for, but a very exclusive one, a "recreation center that the elite can visit confidentially" (located in a nuclear-bomb-proof bunker which will serve as a "bomb shelter for the national elite", should that ever be needed).
       One of the ideas behind the center is to bring back home, in a sense, the oligarchs and other crooks who have plundered Russia and remain in a state of "spiritual squalor" -- seduced by (and trying to imitate) all things Western, and reduced to decadent consumerism, and in the process making fools of themselves (and disgracing the motherland) abroad.
       The plan ?

We must, so to speak, recreate here, on our side of the border, the stupefying mirage that attracts them to the West.
       Lena and the eleven other women are selected to play a part in one particular scheme -- they're 'Singing Caryatids' in the Malachite Hall. A caryatid is a sculpture of a woman, used in the place of a simple pillar or column to hold up a roof, popular in ancient Greek times. Here the ladies aren't so much meant to physically hold up the roof but, yes, metaphorically they should serve to help support the national roof in a political way. And they are also meant to stand at the ready in frozen-sculpted poses, only coming to life when a client wishes to engage in conversation or contact: the ultimate passive woman that exists only to serve and otherwise blends completely (and motionlessly) into the background.
       The physical difficulty of maintaining a pose for hours on end is readily overcome through the use of Mantis-B serum. Injection with that allows the subject then to stand -- in any pose -- effortlessly, waiting ... like a praying mantis. (It apparently doesn't occur to anyone that this maybe isn't the ideal animal-template to use, given that the female praying mantis is known for physically consuming the male during the sex act; the consequences of not really having thought that part of it through here hardly come as a surprise.)
       The serum works, but a presumably unintended consequence is that it allows Lena to drift off -- or split in half -- into an alternate world, even as she stands still; she finds herself feeling to be two Lenas, the one in a more mantis-like world. And it's this mantis-world that she really gets into, liking the feel of this other plane.
       Along the way Pelevin has much very sharp fun with contemporary Russia and consumerist affectation (complete with 'marketologist'), from garbled ads and slogans to various pretensions. As 'real' as this world the rich Russians inhabit is, it feels as vacuous and absurd (albeit in a very different way) as does Lena's surreal alternate-mantis-reality -- presumably one of Pelevin's points.
       If rather satisfying in its outcome, Pelevin's reliance, yet again, on a wildly imagined animalized world -- this is the author of works such as The Life of Insects and The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, after all -- isn't exactly the freshest of tricks and approaches any longer. As such, The Hall of the Singing Caryatids feels more like (yet another) variation on a theme than something truly original.
       Impressive in its sharp invention, and at least fairly contemporary, The Hall of the Singing Caryatids is satisfying enough as a trippy satire, but isn't quite enough as a stand-alone.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 November 2011

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The Hall of the Singing Caryatids: Reviews: Victor Pelevin: Other books by Victor Pelevin under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Victor Pelevin (Виктор Пелевин) was born in 1962.

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© 2011 the complete review

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