Writers writing about writers have just about exhausted themselves as subject matter, and it's not likely that D. M. Thomas’s new novel, Ararat, will revive the genre. Thomas has chosen as his central character an author much like himself, Sergei Rozanov, a poet and sometime novelist. The fact that Rozanov then decides to improvise three different stories, each of which also concerns a poet or novelist, and that one of these characters decides to write a poem about an improvisatore, a poet skilled at spur-of-the-moment improvisations on a given theme—all this only compounds the problem. One multiplies the commonplace and simply gets more of it.

Ararat’s overwrought eroticism and detailed descriptions of genocide will be familiar to readers of Thomas’s previous novel, The White Hotel; but whereas in that work each had its place and was...


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