A note to Pelevin: muddled plots do not inherently have symbolic significance

I’m not sure what to make of Omon Ra. For the most part, I found the story bland—and the rest of it, I just found downright confusing. I was particularly perplexed in the beginning chapters (before Omon “joins” the secret mission to the “Moon”), in the section where Mitiok is “rejected” from the space program, and in the final chapter where Omon escapes (what I’m assuming is some subsection of) the KGB. (I want to note in an aside here how this story necessitates a large number of parentheticals and words in quotations when describing it in writing. Pelevin’s point here is to make the reader understand that nothing is as it seems – but he is far too heavy-handed and the unfortunate result is that much of the plotline makes no sense whatsoever.)

The opening chapters detail the scenes from Omon’s childhood that lead to his desire to become a cosmonaut. I found this section oddly vague, and I never felt that any one vignette was necessary for understanding Omon’s character. This problem was exacerbated by the feeling that each of these vignettes was meant to hold some weighty significance for the rest of the plot. For example, I waited in high anticipation for some substantial forward movement of the plot when Omon and Mitiok take apart the model airplane at their rocket camp to see the miniature pilot inside. Why? Largely because the opening paragraph of this vignette contains the following sentence: “I really only remember the first few days we spent [at the camp]—but that was when everything that became so important later happened.” So it’s no surprise that I was waiting for something really momentous to happen! But it never did. The only meaning that I can (eh, sort of) find in this is through comparing the miniature pilot to Omon’s cramped position inside his spaceship. But it’s a tenuous comparison.

The next really confusing part was the section about the “reincarnation check”. I do not have any idea what to make of the recording of Mitiok’s experience; and honestly, it wasn’t until chapters later (when someone explicitly stated it) that I figured out that Mitiok had been killed as a result of his responses. What was the test, and in which ways did Omon pass but Mitiok fail? Why was Omon given permission to hear the tape? Was the Comrade Flight Leader actually breaching policy by allowing Omon to hear what happened to Mitiok? I don’t a clue as to how to answer any of these questions.

Finally, there is the last chapter. It’s clear that Omon didn’t actually go to the moon, and I think this section is also telling us that the USSR never sent anyone (or anything?) to the moon ever. (Interestingly, this begs the question of what secrets the US is propagating.) But I had trouble understanding where Omon was at distinct moments in the chase scene. And why did those two other “cosmonauts” beat him up for drinking their vodka? And how come they were privy to the state’s big secret of its space program? And why… the questions just never ended in this book. Very little was answered in the novel, and it was not endearing. The plot was not anywhere near engaging enough to make me forgive all of the open-ended questions and plot-holes. At the end of the book, I was left depressed, confused, and frustrated that despite these feelings the book had never managed to engage me.