From the author of the much-lauded White Hotel, a concluding novel in ""the Russian Nights Quintet"" that began with Ararat (1983). D.M. Thomas appears as a character in his own work here--as an author attending the Writers' Internationale Festival at the Riverside Theatre, London. Predictable, self-referential writerly vices ensue. Arriving at the opening ceremonies, Don begins a frenzy of hobnobbing and story-spinning that winds down only when he packs himself off on an outbound train at the festival's conclusion. Avoiding the dreary locals, Don teams up with the Soviets Masha Barash, Victor Surkov, and Sergei Rozanov--characters introduced earlier on in the Russian Nights sequence. At night, Don, Masha, Victor, and Sergei idle away the hours creating impromptu, loosely connected stories. From this exercise emerges the story of two Russian samizdat poets, Anna and Charsky. Anna is preoccupied with the sexually charged 19th-century correspondence between a lumpen parlor maid and the psychologist Dr. von Krafft-Ebing Meanwhile, Charsky experiences the recurring dream of an ascent up the Elger North Face--and, as the multilayered tale proceeds, ritualistic Freudian overtures commence with heavy kettledrum rolls and cymbal-smashing. Finally, and unnecessarily, Charsky himself meets Don following the conference, adding yet another thread and a melodramatic plot twist by his death from--quite believably--a moving train. The effect is winning in small doses--a hilarious sendup of politically correct speechmaking from the convention floor; epistolary exchanges that flash with wit--but, overall, the project has the fragmentary flavor of an unruly collaborative effort.