Apr 17, 2008

The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin

The Helmet of Horror starts in a similar fashion to the movie Cube. A group of people wake up one day and discover that they have been placed in a labyrinth. They have no idea why they were taken there, or by whom. They are trapped in identical cells, and can only communicate with one another through an Internet chat room. Later on, the doors of their cells are opened, and they explore the section of the labyrinth in which they are, but the philosophical dialogue they have in the chat room remains the only way the story is told.

Sounds like an interesting premise, doesn’t it? If only.

Well, it had to happen eventually. After loving all the books in the Canongate Myth Series, I finally came across one that I disliked. And disliked rather strongly at that.

I have absolutely nothing against novels that incorporate philosophical concepts, or that try in some way or another to illustrate a point. But when the sole purpose of a book is to make a point, then perhaps it would have been a better idea for the author to write an essay in which they state that point clearly. I think that a non-fiction book would have worked better than this elaborate metaphor for the nature of reality and perception and the myth of progress in the shape of a novel. It's not just that the discussion the characters were having didn't interest me (but to be honest, it really didn't), it's that I really disliked the way in which it was presented.

The characters in this book are, to put it simply, not characters. The way they talk is absolutely unconvincing. Nobody talks like that, and nobody reacts to the situation they find themselves in the way they do. I have come across plays like this before – plays in which the characters are not characters, but puppets. Vehicles for The Idea. The Point. And I’m sure there’s an audience out there for this kind of thing, but alas, I am not it.

A.S. Byatt called this “…a metaphor for all myths and their workings in the mind (…) a brilliant post-modern, eclectic version of myth, mind and meaning. And of the human dilemma and its horns, ancient and modern.” Perhaps some of you will agree if you read it. Sadly, I cannot.

On to Girl Meets Boy.

Other Opinions:
Just What You Want
An Adventure in Reading
Rhinoa's Ramblings


  1. It's the ocassional books that we come across that we just don't care for (for whatever reasons) that makes me wonder what it is that makes us pick them up in the first place..

    the great cover?
    the blubs?
    an amazon review?

    something makes us think we will like it and then it disappoints!

    but we love most of your books so I guess we can't complain lol

  2. sounds annoying, yeah

    But I just wanted to say that I'm happy cause you're reading the Book thief!

  3. Oooh, I knew from your plot summary that I wouldn't like this book...I was thinking "it's one of those books." I just don't get into these "wake up in a strange place with strangers and have to find our way out" books...then you throw in this philosophical stuff and go in this weird round about way of saying what you could just say straight out and it just gets annoying. Yeah, doesn't sound like a winner. Can't wait to hear what you think of The Book Thief and Tales from Watership Down! Two that I've been dying to read!

  4. I'm glad I'm not the only one who felt this way about the book! And yes, enjoy The Book Thief. It's wonderful!

  5. I'm sorry this one let you down, Nymeth. Always kinda sucks to realize you wasted your time on book that is just plain disappointing. Then again, maybe they help us appreciate the good even more. Who knows. Anyway, may your next book be much more satisfying!

  6. Deslily: In this case, I picked it up simply because it was part of the Canongate Myth Series. I guess that goes to show you can't always trust those things. But yeah, I really can't complain...it had been a long long time since I'd disliked a book this much.

    Valentina: It was quite annoying :P And yes, I finally am! So far, so good!

    Chris: It's not so much the "people waking up in a strange place" bit that I mind...I did enjoy the first Cube movie a lot, although I know that those stories aren't for everyone. What drove me crazy was that it was a "people wake up in a strange place and have Deep Meaningful Talks instead of, I don't know, reacting like any human being would" kind of book :P The Book Thief and Tales of Watership Down are great so far! And btw, I finished Witch Ember today and it was awesome! I'll post my review in a few days...I want to try and make it justice, but it's gonna be hard... there's just so much to that book.

    Traci: You're definitely not alone. And I'm really enjoying The Book Thief so far :)

    Debi: At least it was a very short book. It only took me a couple of hours to read it...if it had been longer, I'd have put it aside. You're right, this does help us appreciate the good ones even more. It'd been a while since I'd read a book in which I couldn't for the life of me find any redeeming features.

  7. Rubbish I am sorry you didn't like this one and I hope you enjoy the rest you have yet to read in the series. I will read this one as like you I want to read the whole series. I hope I enjoy it more than you did...

  8. The premise does sounds interesting, but it's too bad that it has to end it that way. I hope you'll enjoy the next book!

    BTW, I've received your book! Thank you so much!!! :D

  9. Oh cool! Glad you finished Witch Ember...yeah there's a WHOLE lot to that book. It was quite epic. I'm reading his second book right now, The Raven, and it's taking me awhile to get through because it's huge and even more epic! But it's very good and follows Guiromelans after the events of Witch Ember. Really enjoying it, though I miss reading about Esmeree :(

  10. But when the sole purpose of a book is to make a point, then perhaps it would have been a better idea for the author to write an essay in which they state that point clearly.

    I totally agree.

    Thing is, I haven't read anything from the Canongate Myth Series. Hahaha!

  11. It did sound interesting, I'm sorry that it wasn't a worthwhile experience.

    I think a book has to be pretty special to be a message book like you describe and actually be something that is enjoyable and doesn't just annoy people.

    Hopefully the next book will be so great that it will quickly get this bad taste out of your mouth.

  12. Oh yeah, part of the reason I avoided Victor Pelevin was because of how "postmodern" he tries to be. Sorry, don't get it.

    That said, I actually liked the movie "Cube" .

  13. Rhinoa: I hope you do too. The rest of the series was great so far so I will definitely continue to read it. I'm sure that Girl Meets Boy won't disappoint me - Greek myths and Ali Smith, how could that go wrong?

    Melody: yay! I'm glad it made it there safely, and I hope you enjoy it!

    Chris: Yep, epic is a good word! I'm sad to hear that the sequel is not about Esmeree :( I liked her so much. But I still want to read it, of course. Guiromelans was an interesting character as well.

    Lightheaded: You should :P All the other books were really good!

    Carl: Yeah, it's very rare for that kind of book to work for me. The Book Thief is turning out to be the perfect book to make me forget that bad books even exist!

    Dark Orpheus: I wasn't familiar with him before, but I will avoid him from now on as well. I also thought that Cube was pretty cool.

  14. Thanks for saving me some wasted time, Nymeth. I love Cube and I've had The Helmet of Horror dancing around the edges of my radar for a while now - I've not read anything by Pelevin, but this seemed like it might be a good introduction (and I guess it was, in a way - thanks again for the warning!)

  15. Ack! Sorry this turned out to be so disappointing. I'm not sure I would like it either from the way you described it. Those aren't flaws I could easily overlook or am drawn to.

  16. Ken: lol, you're welcome :P I guess this is a good book for people who are into philosophical/abstract/extremely post-modern stuff. But for those who, like me, were expecting a story in the more traditional sense of the word, it's a big let down.

    Literary Feline: Yeah, I'm not drawn to this kind of thing at all either. Ah well, on to the next good book!

  17. That is a wonderful cure all! It is great when you can follow up a stinker with something really, really enjoyable.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.