Few authors dare to bite the hand that feeds them, but in a captivating representation of art imitating life, Victor Pelevin’s fearless satirisation of a media-fuelled lifestyle in SNUFF is a powerful novelisation of a flawed society.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, society has split into two factions – the Urkanians (often referred to as orks) that inhabit the land, and the ‘humans’ that live on Big Byzantium, a city hovering above Urkaina.
The general theory of the story takes a little getting used to. In Big Byz, the age of consent is 46, so inhabitants get their thrills from films. This is where our first protagonist comes in. A live news cameraman, Damilola flies drones, capturing films of illicit affairs and damsels in distress, which is how the reader stumbles upon our second protagonist, Grim.
Wars are started simply for the sake of entertainment, and every aspect of them is recorded. It’s a world controlled by media, and it’s not necessarily a good thing.
Frustratingly, SNUFF takes a while to really find its pace. In some respects it feels like elements of the story have gotten lost in translation. Originally published in Russian in 2011, the British version starts off a little unpredictably; vocabulary leaps unexpectedly into extravagant and dated phrases, but it seems to find its rhythm after a couple of chapters.
The literary quirks become so typical of the characters that it’s worth wondering whether this effect was actually intentional.
SNUFF really strikes a chord, and whether you’re au fait with contemporary Russian history or not, Pelevin’s depiction of a broken society easily reflects many flaws of any modern civilisation.