D(onald) M(ichael) Thomas Nicholas Shrimpton - Essay

Nicholas Shrimpton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

D.M. Thomas is a notable translator of modern Russian verse and [The Flute Player] is an imaginative meditation on the themes and landscapes of that literature. Against a dream-like background of wars and purges we watch a generation of artists struggling to survive. The setting is never specifically identified as Russia, and there are times when we appear to be in Berlin rather than Moscow. But our contemporary image of the artist's life as heroic endeavour is derived almost entirely from the unofficial writers and painters of the Soviet Union, and it is that image which the book celebrates.

The narrative is a simple chronicle of endurance, centred upon the enigmatic flute player…. Through her room pass the soldiers and state functionaries, the religious fanatics, painters, actors and writers of the book's imaginary city. The artists especially are nourished by her preternatural beauty and endurance. She inspires, supports, and eventually memorises, the work of a whole family of poets. Though symbolic significances obviously tremble on the tongue, the novel never dwindles into allegory…. At times of course, The Flute Player seems secondhand, an envious borrowing of other men's literary clothes. But its method is confessedly that of collage and, as collage, it achieves a delicate distinction. (p. 922)

Nicholas Shrimpton, "Love of Flying," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 97, No. 2518, June 22, 1979, pp. 922-23.∗