Thomas, a British poet and translator, begins with a note of foreboding acknowledgment: ""Quotations ascribed in this novel to two of the fictional characters are from: Akhmadulina, Akhmatova, Baudelaire, Chapman, Dante, Emily Dickinson, Eliot, Frost, Lorca, Mandelstam, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Pasternak, Sylvia Plath, Pushkin. . ."" and about a half dozen other greats. And this list, we're afraid, tells all there is to know about Thomas' lifeless synthesis, presumably a parable of artists' lives in a state like the soviet Union from pre-Revolutionary times up to the present. Ebbs and flows of repression. Extravagant bohemianism followed by arctic clamp-downs on freedom. Torture, death, then thaw. And through it all floats Elena, the muse-like flute-player of the title who's always in the middle of the art-society: she's forced to work mostly as a prostitute (a heavyhanded irony). Saturated as he is in modern Soviet poetry, Thomas seems merely to have taken away proper names, mixed a few circumstances, thrown in a little sex, and spiced with sprigs of immortal literature--hoping for a timeless chronicle of the travails of art under the heel. It's instead a dreary, donnish presumption of fiction, termed a ""fantasy"" only because it avoids the specific. A dry, pretentious exercise.