Books by D.M. Thomas

Released: Feb. 1, 1998

A slightly odd but ultimately very satisfying biography of a man who, in terms of political and historical impact, has been called ``the dominant writer of this century.'' George Kennan described The Gulag Archipelago as ``the most powerful single indictment of a political regime ever to be levelled in modern times.'' The irony is that the indictment came not from the West, but from a heroic survivor of the Gulag. It is the particular merit of this book that it shows such an understanding of the qualities that were required to survive the camps, to write with such demonic intensity, to fight against the constant threats and surveillance of the KGB, and to make no compromises with the truth. He and his wife solemnly agreed that they were prepared to sacrifice their own lives and those of their children, rather than betray what he had written. Such a man, as the noted novelist Thomas (The White Hotel, 1981; Lady with a Laptop, 1996; etc.) writes with delicate irony, ``could not also be your clubbable nice guy from next door.'' Without stinting the importance of what Solzhenitsyn did, Thomas gives a just appraisal of the human cost to those with whom he worked, particularly his first wife, of that total dedication. He also brings up-to-date the incomparable 1984 biography by Michael Scammell, and through interviews with Solzhenitsyn's first wife and access to material that has recently become available, including KGB files and debates in the Politburo, adds new and important material. The value of the book is lessened, however, by its heavy reliance on Scammell, its occasional ``imagined'' scenes and its crude Freudian analogies (Solzhenitsyn's supposedly ``anal'' temperament). Somewhat overwritten at the start (Dzerzhinsky, the first head of the Cheka, is described as ``goatee-bearded El Greco of terror, death's Stakhanovite''), it becomes simpler and better written as it goes on. A sympathetic and judicious appraisal that will deepen the understanding of this remarkable man. Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1996

Thomas (Pictures at an Exhibition, 1993; Eating Pavlova, 1994, etc.) treats us to another trashy feast of cheap sensation and obvious sentiment, in the course of which—imperceptibly at first and against every expectation—he nearly manages to extract the rabbit from his hat. But not quite. Simon Hopkins, a second-rate novelist and the head of Fiction Therapy at Skagathos Holidays (``the New Age holistic centre on the Greek island of Skagathos''), is responsible for the literary egos of the 11 bad amateurs who have paid good money to come to Greece to join his workshop. Even by workshop standards they are a pretty pathetic bunch, and it is Simon's unhappy task to convince them—by having them do such things as chant ``We are as the gods'' for half an hour each morning—that they can write. Simon harbors no illusions: ``It's a load of crap, of course; but in a sense that's why they're here. At least it's different crap from what they get at home.'' His main concern at first is getting laid, an appetite his students share. Trouble enters this lubricous world, however, when one of Simon's students commits suicide. The group dwindles. Meanwhile, Simon learns that his wife is seeing another man, his publisher is starting to remainder his books, and an old girlfriend has given birth to his child. A man of less ordinary abilities would find a way of working off these travails in his art, but Simon is self-aware enough to know he isn't that kind of writer, that he will never win the coveted Booker Prize, and that in some major way his life will have to change. When (at the very end) it does, he is amazed, but his amazement is the only convincing element of an implausible finale that fits neither the circumstances at hand nor the story at large. Good-natured and amusing, but flimsy as a house of cards. A near-miss. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 15, 1994

Thomas (Pictures at an Exhibition, 1993, etc.) slips further down the greasy pole toward literary ignominy in this trashy account of Sigmund Freud's final days. It's 1939, and Freud is in Hampstead dying of cancer—a situation full of scatological promise for a predictable author like Thomas. During bouts of pain and delirium, Freud recounts episodes real and imaginary from his life, from seeing his mother's pubic hair to watching his nurse miscarry his father's child. The present is also a confusion of dreams and reality for Freud, who often psychoanalyzes what actually happens and takes his lurid fantasies as truth. His daughter, Anna, who nurses him during this time, is the object of Freud's prurience and, in fact, invites it. The second part of the book focuses on Freud's diaries from WW I, a period during which he suffered a nervous breakdown because of an affair he imagined his wife, Martha, was having with a neighbor. That period is also the subject of a story by Anna in which she figures as her father's wife. The final chapters are a series of dreams Freud has just before he dies. These dreams are all scenes of actual events that will take place subsequent to his death: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Anna shopping for groceries in a modern supermarket, the Vietnam War. Freud is, of course, unaware of his prescience and analyzes the ``death-dreams'' as he would any others (concluding that the mushroom-shaped cloud represents the times he and Anna hunted mushrooms in the woods, and so forth). Thomas rehashes his old material with as little success as he has had in all his latest literary efforts. The only good reading here is when Thomas favors us with borscht-belt jokes; though somewhat gratuitous, they are nonetheless appreciated. Sometimes pretension is just pornography. Drivel. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1993

Thomas (The White Hotel, 1981, etc.) is an expert recycler, doing his best to keep the literary environment clean of any especially fresh idea or slant. In his last matters-grave- and-ultimate-style, he ``probed'' the Kennedy assassination (Flying Into Love, 1992), and now he does the Holocaust: the crimes of a prison-camp doctor and the ripples of guilt, responsibility, and nightmare that circle outward after the grisly time. In Auschwitz, Dr. Lorenz assists Mengele, while a Czech inmate in turn assists him—even to the degree of listening sympathetically to the doctor's demons erupting. The inmate survives to become a London shrink and to garner a practice of patients and disciples who, both consciously and not, recapitulate the moral evasions and pains of his experience. Another writer, with less of a need to throw down a cheap buffet of sex-scandal, horror, dream, and highbrow culture— Thomas's four apocalyptic horsemen—might have made something of this, but Thomas doesn't: it's a confusing mash, too impatient to play out a thread and watch it become part of a fabric, full of fake exits and entrances, characters that are little more than tossed-together names, and liberal scrapings from others' documentary works. Skip it. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 2, 1992

There's hardly a serious theme that Thomas (Summit, 1988; Lying Together, 1990, etc.) can't make hackwork out of— psychoanalysis, Russian literature, and now the Kennedy assassination. Usually the historical/pornographic/metafictional pastiches Thomas cooks up are just this side of smarmy—but with a tabloid-Englishman's zest, he's crossed sides here, and how. Everything from the cutesy title (Love Field was Dallas's only airport at the time) to wholesale buying-in to the Oliver Stone/Mark Lane crowd of conspiracy connoisseurs to vignettes of how the little people of Dallas felt on the terrible day to Jackie's inner thoughts to Jack's goatish sharing of Marilyn with Bobby—it's all given a spin in this cheap blender of a book. In prose so pedestrian that it ought to have a crosswalk (``Well, tonight he would be there! He would be in a safe-house and Castro would come personally to shake his hand! He shivered; he could still scarcely believe it. In a few hours he would be famous....''), Thomas cheapens all he touches under the protection of collage and re-association. Offensive, simple-minded, and only for fans of gross cartoon. Read full book review >