It is only in the last few pages of this awkwardly impressive novel [The Flute Player] that the heroine, Elena, at some sort of peace at last, begins to play the flute. Before that she plays, with a sort of resigned zest, every passive female part to the friends and husbands that come and go through the unnamed city she inhabits. People appear and disappear, are feted, sacked, imprisoned, released, rehabilitated, and arrested again. The populace, denied any political initiative, trims its sails to the veering winds, celebrating liberalization and gritting its teeth through repression….
D. M. Thomas is a distinguished translator of Soviet poetry, but his city is a metaphor for more than Moscow; all modern European history comes to it—exterminations and sieges, purges, war, truce, a dividing Wall (with equal discontent on either side). Likewise the characters speak the words of Frost or Plath as much as those of Mandelstam and Akhmatova. It is a work with a most original savour, one which will annoy ideologues of most persuasions by its dreamy insistence on poets as legislators.
Ron Kirke, "Pipe Dreams," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1979; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4002, November 30, 1979, p. 77.