The classical myth is reinterpreted with black-comic brio in this odd new novel from the internationally acclaimed Russian author (The Life of Insects, 1998, etc.).
Marketed as “Mythology” (and part of Canongate’s ongoing series “The Myths”), it’s a computer-age consideration of the meanings incarnated in the Greek adventurer Theseus, the monstrous (half-man, half-bull) Minotaur and the maze in which they meet. The novel’s form is an extended conversation taking place in an Internet chat room, among several e-mailers who are themselves confined within individual mazes that appear to be parts of an encompassing labyrinth. At least this is the eventually shared opinion of Ariadne (the Greek maiden whose clever placement of a thread guided Theseus in and out of his maze), aging Lothario Romeo-y-Cohiba, computer geek Nutscracker, booze-obsessed materialist Sartrik, sex-obsessed IsoldA (a self-described combination of the Mona Lisa and Monica Lewinsky) and others. Is the Minotaur the creation of Asterisk, a “boundlessly and infinitely powerful being” avenging himself on humans who had turned against him? Or something that exists only in the “chatters’” heads?—or are they what the beast itself imagines and dreams? Pelevin evidently enjoys himself more than most readers will, toying with theoretical possibilities while analyzing the nature of such mazes as that in an “amusement arcade,” the Roman catacombs, the gardens at Versailles, penitential labyrinths dug beneath churches and cathedrals and—of course—the Internet itself. Random clues suggest a satire on the “monstrous” commercialism and criminality that toppled the U.S.S.R. and labored puns liken computer “savers” to saviours (is Pelevin after all Russia’s Thomas Pynchon?). But it’s all exposition and explication, and it’s tiresome.
Admirers of Pelevin’s fiction should attempt it. But it’s too much of a maze—and there’s nothing to show the way out.