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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Helmet of Horror

Victor Pelevin

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To purchase The Helmet of Horror

Title: The Helmet of Horror
Author: Victor Pelevin
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 279 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Helmet of Horror - US
The Helmet of Horror - UK
The Helmet of Horror - Canada
The Helmet of Horror - India
Minotaure.com - France
Der Schreckenshelm - Deutschland
L'elmo del terrore - Italia
El yelmo del horror - España
  • The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur
  • Russian title: Шлем ужаса
  • Translated by Andrew Bromfield
  • Part of The Myths-series

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Our Assessment:

B- : often clever labyrinthine tale, but not entirely successful

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 22/4/2006 James Lasdun
The Independent . 3/4/2006 James Urquhart
New Statesman . 20/3/2006 John Mullan
The Observer . 19/3/2006 Killian Fox
Sunday Telegraph . 19/3/2006 George Walden
Sunday Times . 23/4/2006 Hugo Barnacle
The Times A 18/2/2006 .
TLS . 12/5/2006 Caroline Mcginn
Die Zeit . (7/2006) Christof Keller

  Review Consensus:

  No consensus, though many do find it appealing or intriguing

  From the Reviews:
  • "With its web-symposium format (bits of text appended to wacky names) and its quasi-philosophical content, it reads like the minutes from some Socratic chatroom. (...) One wants to applaud a writer for trying something new, but it has to be said that he is not working to his strengths here. (...) But where a Borges might have built a compelling narrative out of these elements, Pelevin goes at them with a fly, half-hearted jokiness; scattering some incidental brilliance, but more often trailing off into high-end gobbledegook. It's all moderately engaging, but it doesn't do justice to his own particular gifts." - James Lasdun, The Guardian

  • "Pelevin's dramatic form has plenty of pace, and enjoys a generally higher quality of exchange than chatroom average. (...) 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." - James Urquhart, The Independent

  • "But while Pelevin likes to raise a question -- is myth the opposite of progress ? -- he does not like to stay with it long enough for it to acquire any weight. Ditto with his satirical sallies. He inserts references to contemporary politics randomly, but without force. (...) Pelevin has acquired a reputation as a clever writer, but the turn to myth has freed him from too many responsibilities. This is a clever man writing self-indulgently." - John Mullan, New Statesman

  • "Pelevin discovers a fascinating perspective on the subject, so it's a pity that he undercuts it with showiness and a clutch of facile jokes. There is a sense that if anything can progress here, it is the author's talent, which would benefit greatly from a dose of maturity. None the less, The Helmet of Horror is an intriguing work, liable to frustrate and reward in equal measure." - Killian Fox, The Observer

  • "(W)acky and absorbing.(...) The helmet of horror that holds us in thrall is the mind, and chat about its nature is couched in philosophical puzzles. (...) Were it not for his characters' human touches, a great deal of this book would be hard going. Low humour too frequently comes to the rescue (...) As often with Pelevin, this book is a mixture of the witty, the brilliant and the barking mad." - George Walden, Sunday Telegraph

  • "The novel may seem airy-fairy, and Dr Johnson would give it a good kick, but it presents ideas that the wider European mind finds useful, and it is sharp, funny and, what’s the word, numinous." - Hugo Barnacle, Sunday Times

  • "He has brilliantly made his chosen myth into a metaphor for all myths and their workings in the mind. (...) The dialogue between these characters is both snappy and moving. They are, as we all are, trying to make sense of the mystery of how they came to be as and where they are, of what is real and what merely a product of the mind. (...) The Helmet of Horror is a brilliant postmodern, eclectic vision of myth, mind and meaning. And of the human dilemma and its horns, ancient and modern." - The Times

  • "In The Helmet of Horror, Victor Pelevin's drubbing of the new virtual reality has been banged up inside the virtual-reality helmet, where its visionary exuberance is somewhat muffled. (...) The Helmet of Horror is Pelevin's most gnomic work to date: an absurdist satire in which plot is replaced by a perpetual question-and-answer session, and characters are downsized, context-stripped and confined in apparently customized labyrinths where they are waiting for Theseus." - Caroline Mcginn, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       In The Helmet of Horror Victor Pelevin re-sets the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in a very modern setting -- what has the appearance of an Internet chatroom. After a 'Mythcellaneous' prologue, the entire text consists of dialogue, between a group of people who find themselves in similar mysterious circumstances, isolated, and connected only to each other via computer screen and keyboard.
       It's not quite the Internet:

Seems like this isn't the Internet, just looks like it. You can't link to anywhere else from here.
       It's quite a group, and it all begins with ... Ariadne's thread (though Ariadne only returns to the fray a while later). There's also some sort of monitor somewhere on the line that exerts some sort of control -- preventing the exchange of a lot of personal information, as well as swear words, replacing these with "xxx". (The monitor's real-time powers in these regards suggest that it might -- or at least could -- be doing other things as well.)
       In their separate but nearly identical rooms (or cells), dressed up in ancient Greek tunics, the characters find themselves in a sort of labyrinth and try to talk their way out of it. or at least figure out what is going on, leading to a great deal of what amounts to philosophical speculation, as their situation poses fundamental questions about the nature of perception and reality. There are a variety of clues in the rooms themselves that push the discussion forward (and make their fate/situation clearer), and some of the characters offer additional information as well -- especially Ariadne and her dreams.
       Pelevin uses the set-up fairly cleverly, and there are quite a few good bits here as well as some pretty sharp dialogue ("Oh Mama ! When I hear the word 'discourse', I reach for my simulacrum").
       The 'helmet of horror' idea itself is also decent, though Pelevin does try to do a bit much with it:
The helmet of horror fractionates the one thing that is, into the multitude of things that are not. But since the helmet of horror is in no way the one thing that is, it is also one of the multitude of things that are not.
       As a variation on the Minotaur's labyrinth, Pelevin does come up with some ingenious ideas, but on the whole it's more clever than a convincing re-imaging of the myth. Pelevin offers enough to amuse and entertain, but it doesn't feel like he's done all that he could with the material and this specific approach.

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The Helmet of Horror: 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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© 2006-2011 the complete review

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