I’ve got a review of Victor Pelevin’s The Hall of the Singing Caryatids (publishing this week from New Directions) coming up at The National, but I wanted to put in a little kind word for the book right here. It’s a wonderful little novella, a book that only grew in my estimation a I re-read it a couple of times for the review.
I’m certainly not an expert on contemporary Russian lit, but of the Russians who have made their way to English, I Pelevin is probably my favorite. He seems to actually do all of those things that people like to praise Vladimir Sorokin for (a vastly overrated author, in my opinion). Pelevin is one of those satirists who knows how to get very creative when flinging darts at his targets (Sorokin, on the other hand, seems to only know how to stick outrageous scenes in his books). But he doesn’t just stop at satire: he turns these satirical turns into very robust metaphors, and then he interrelates them over the course of a book until you’re left with a very complex, very readable story. He creates art in the sense that Maurice Merleau-Ponty defined it: “A work of art provides us with symbols whose meaning we shall never finish developing.”
New Directions published this book in their “Pearls” series of short, novella-length works, but it actually comes from a book of five novellas titled P5 (more on that here). I hope someone eventually publishes the whole thing in English.