In May 1937, a man in his early 30s waits by the lift of a Leningrad apartment block. He waits all through the night, expecting to be taken away to the Big House. Any celebrity he has known in the previous decade is no use to him now, and few who are taken to the Big House ever return.
©2016 Julian Barnes (P)2016 W F Howes Ltd
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
A soul could be destroyed in one of three ways: by what others did to you; by what others made you do to yourself; and by what you voluntarily did to yourself. Any single method was sufficient; though if all three were present, the outcome was irresistible."
― Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time
The last Julian Barnes I read was 'The Sense of an Ending' which seemed to float perfectly as a short novel. The prose was as delicate, smooth and perfect as rosette frosting. I'm not sure Nabokov would want to follow that novel, but eventually Barnes was bound to write his next novel, comparisons be damned.
'The Noise of Time' is a short 200 page novel about the life and times of Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the great composers of the 20th century. This is not exactly new ground. 11 years ago William T. Vollmann also used the life of Shostakovich to explore the nature of evil, power, etc. Vollmann used Shostakovich as one of several voices to tell his stories. In some ways, Europe Central explores WWII as a symphony and the life of Shostakovich happens to just be one of the major instruments. In 'The Noise of Time' Barnes explores art and music using Shostakovich as a single instrument.
Barnes uses the relationship between Shostakovich and Stalin (later the Soviet state) to delve into how power and fear can externally affect the artist. But he goes further and looks at how man can affect his own art in relationship to the outside world. He looks at how irony is used as a defense against external forces that would control and destroy.
One of my favorite lines from this novel is:
“Art belongs to everybody and nobody. Art belongs to all time and no time. Art belongs to those who create it and those who savour it. Art no more belongs to the People and the Party than it once belonged to the aristocracy and the patron. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time. Art does not exist for art’s sake: it exists for people’s sake.”
Anyway, this month I've been a bit obsessed with Shostakovich. After reading two fictionalized accounts his life, I've also been sucked down the Russian rabbit hole of his Symphonies (primarily the 5th, 7th, and 1oth). These three symphonies play a significant role in both books, so I'm glad to have been reminded several times this year that I should listen to more post-romantics than just Gustav Mahler. Thank you Julian Barnes and William T. Vollmann to push me into the small, shaking hands of Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich.
One master-passion in the br east, like Aaron's serpent, swallows all the rest. A. Pope
Julian Barnes' short novel is enriching in the aesthetics of art and music and edifying in a look at how one of history's greatest composers might have dealt with Stalin's sinister oppression and created exceptional compositions despite living in constant fear that death might be the next knock on the door.
The re-imagining of Shostakovich's life under Stalin reverberates in the ironies of humanity. We esteem courage and justice, but we also want to live. Had Shostakovich spoken out against Stalin's purges and quashing of true art, he would most certainly have been killed immediately, and the world would have been deprived of brilliant works of music. And, would his speaking out have changed anything? Or, should Shostakovich be plagued by his failure in this regard in spite of the haunting reminders he has provided history, well beyond his natural death, of the evils of communism and of Stalin and other "leaders" like him.
"Art is the whisper of history heard above the noise of time," notes the narrator of THE NOISE OF TIME. Anyone familiar with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 knows that certain "whispers" roar.
These are the ironies Barnes explores in his inspired new work.
One of the best
Shostakovich's encounter with Stalin
The encounter with a beggar in a railway station
Shostakovich's attempt to avoid joining the Communist Party
A fascinating book brilliantly read by Daniel Philpott. Just a slight feeling that the rant against Communism is so remorseless that one ends up by thinking it must have had some good features. The portrait of the central protagonist is totally convincing but was it Shostakovich? Who knows?
Not an easy read, often tedious and often confusing. throughput the book I kept getting confused about Stalin's state,at one point I believed he was dead only to discover he wasn't. this happened several times! To many digressions and rambling psycho babel. there we're moments of interest to be sure but the style might be more associated by an English major or an academic
Brilliantly written, this book struggles to keep the reader motivated to read on. The irresolvable tension between the ideal of integrity and courage art should live up to and the reality of the all too human fearfulness of the protagonist cannot be elaborated on for so many pages (or hours of reading) without begging the question: where is the story? The performance of the reader is superb
"The Noise of Time"
A very interesting slant on Shostocovich and his life. It also gives an insight into the way the Soviet Union treated its artists . It is more a biography than a story but Julian Barnes writes so well that the people he describes come alive.
"Hey, Shosti......Nabokov and the CIA"
Any personal consideration of this novel is driven initially by a comparison to David Pownall’s 'Master Class' which I saw in around 1983 at the Theatre Royal Newcastle. The pairing of Shostakovich and Stalin was, in that instance complemented with the appearance on stage of Zhdanov and Prokofiev. I remember thinking that the get-together was a fantastic pretense and a wonderful construct on which questions of artistic intention and integrity were played out with lots of laughs, some real reflection and great skill on the part of Trevor Cooper.
In Julian Barnes’ novel the focus is entirely personal, built around a series of historic events rather than a single pivot. Its a more natural choice for a novel, of course, and these days its great to be able to quickly interrogate the British Pathé archive viewing the arrival of Shostakovich in New York as described and do the background checks on Nicolas Nabokov and the CIA.
Entirely satisfying? Not really. Unlike The Sense Of An Ending there is no sense of an edge in that, where historical facts are blended into the narrative, there is no clear cut between that inventive narrative fiction and documentary. That impacted my reading of the latest effort from a great contemporary novelist - not to say that the novel represents beautiful clear writing stopping off at all of the important emotional and intellectual points along the way to enjoy the view. A struggle between 4 and 5 star stuff although I am sure that the author didn’t trouble himself with my tape-measure considerations. A victim of his own high standards in this case, perhaps and emblematic of its subject.
"very entertaining and informative"
the narrator was excellent the story was good and I enjoyed the read as it gave an in-depth view Into the composers life in tribulations.
"Not Barnes' best, but still worth a look"
Although this isn't one of Barnes' most insightful or substantial contributions, it is (as with all the best works by this author) written with an admirable restraint and clarity, and with Barnes' typically subtle use of structure and repetition. It provides a humane depiction of the composer at three critical phases of his life and is well worth reading if you are a either Barnes or Shostakovich devotee. The reader's performance is also excellent, and perfectly serves Barnes' sensitive and controlled prose.
"Complex but Worthwhile"
Not an easy read but worthwhile to understand Shostakovitch's life in Soviet Russia. Excellent narrator
"The noise in his head"
The rambling style creates a sense of the listener partaking of Shostakovich's mind. An excellent novel, convincingly performed by Daniel Philpott
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