Saturday, 31 March 2012

Mythopoesis is a fancy word

The myth of Theseus and the Minotaur gets a playful reworking from Russian author Victor Pelevin in The Helmet of Horror, published under the Canongate Myths series. Set out like a forum chatboard the handful of characters find themselves lost in an existential, virtual? maze with only a computer terminal to record their musings and their bewildering experiences with permanent residents of the labrinth. Much like Pelevin's Clay Machine Gun there's a tongue in cheek erudition that suffuses the novel and it's to Pelevin's credit that it never seems pretentious or smug. Definitely the most experimental of the Canongate series I've read so far but don't be put off, it's also the funniest.

The Prague Cemetery sees Umberto Eco dip his toe back into conspiratorial shenanigans as he recreates the spread of anti-Semitic myth making in 19th Century Europe, culminating eventually in the invidious Protocols of Zion. Our protagonist, Captain Simoni, is a forger for hire, indoctrinated with a deep hatred of Jews, who finds himself drawn into an increasingly complex web of espionage and political intrigues, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Hugo, Dumas and Garibaldi along the way. Eco predictably offers a convoluted narrative structure with two men co-writing the same memoirs that is interspersed with diary portions and it's all strung together with a (suspiciously helpful) over-arching narrator. It's great novel and Eco packs in plenty of plot but the characters are all horrible, unpleasant individuals and given it's charting the preamble to the Holocaust it's surprisingly flippant at times.

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