It has taken me too long. I have wandered around Pelevin’s books for a few years now, trying to decide whether to spend money on them (and no, the library doesn’t have them). I wish now that I had done this sooner. Because I have been missing a real treat.
Omon Ra is a heart-breakingly bleak, absurdist, farce. Ostensibly a satire about the Soviet space programme – in which expendable young men are suborned for the pride of their Motherland into suicidally manning ‘automated’ spacecraft – this work goes much deeper and far wider. Beneath the layers of social satire are musings on the nature of reality, on growing up, on friendship. The despair-ridden backdrop, far bleaker than any moonscape, is shot through with moments of real tenderness.
Written in a spare, matter of fact style in which the real and surreal work perfectly alongside each other, the idiocies of political ambition are thrown in sharp contrast with the simple desires of the human being. The ability to capture vivid moments with a handful of words, the complex weaving of imagery (wonderfully preserved in the translation by Andrew Bromfield), the sharp simplicity of the story, all speak of a master at work.
Whilst reading I caught flashes of the Strugatskys, Ballard, Beckett, and Kafka without the work ever being in their thrall. Pelevin has covered similar territory to these and other authors, but with his own distinct voice. I very much look forward to reading more of his work.