Pushkin’s Pupil

Christopher Driver

  • Ararat by D.M. Thomas
    Gollancz, 191 pp, £6.95, February 1983, ISBN 0 575 03247 2

Not since Arnold Bennett, Elizabeth Bowen and Vicki Baum can a novelist have looked so readily for resonance in the name and function of hotels. After his world-beating Freudian serve with The White Hotel here is D.M. Thomas again, standing on the baseline at the start of his new novel in yet another hotel setting. The Soviet poet, Rozanov, is sharing his bed with a blind woman whom he has arranged to meet because he fancies a literally blind date, and she is a fervent admirer of his verse. The hotel is in Gorky, so lacks character: you will not expect to find it among Mr Rubinstein’s Quaint Little Hotels of Britain and Europe, as might have happened with Thomas’s previous hotel by the lake where ‘your son crashed through my modesty, a stag in rut. The staff were wonderful. I’ve never known such service as they gave.’ It is a caravanserai of convenience only. Rozanov is by no means a reluctant rutter – hardly anyone in Thomas-land is – but on this occasion he is too bored by his admirer to perform until she appeals to his other talent. He is an improvisatore, grandson of an Armenian storyteller who perished in the genocide of 1915. ‘Ararat’ the tale takes shape on his lips between night and morning in the hotel bedroom armchair. The twin peaks of his desire, to borrow the soft porn expression, are those of Mount Ararat itself, the sacred mountain of the Armenians, which lies beyond the Iron Curtain (from the point of view of a Soviet Armenian) because it was annexed by the Turks.

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