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The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

The Noise of Time (2016)

by Julian Barnes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8355816,523 (3.86)123
Recently added bykpn, Dine81, rolandt, sokam, Dunord, SheldonFamily, private library, sbrumfit, mdoris, Derryod
  1. 00
    Sjostakovitsj zijn leven, zijn werk, zijn tijd by Krzysztof Meyer (gust)
  2. 00
    The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (shaunie)
    shaunie: Barnes is a huge fan of Fitzgerald and her influence is clear in The Noise of Time.
  3. 00
    The Captive Mind by Czesław Miłosz (aileverte)
    aileverte: Miłosz delves into different types of comportments of artists living in a totalitarian regime.
  4. 00
    Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (aileverte)
    aileverte: Barnes subtly alludes to Grossman's work on many occasions.
  5. 00
    The noise of time and other prose pieces by Osip Mandelstam (aileverte)
    aileverte: Barnes's book (not so secretly) dialogues with Mandelstam.
  6. 00
    The Siege by Helen Dunmore (charl08)
    charl08: Linked by the experience of 'the terror'.

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» See also 123 mentions

English (50)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Excellent book; Barnes draws you into the soul of Shostakovich, a composer trying to make a living in Stalinist Russia. The encounters with the tyrant and the horrific system are believable, and Shostakovich comes across as an all too human character. The writing is wonderful; this is an enchanting little book I found hard to put down. Kudos to Mr. Barnes. ( )
  geza.tatrallyay | Apr 10, 2019 |
So that's Shostakovich then. But too much Stalin for my taste. Soviet Russia was not much fun is one of the key takeaways here. I have tended to find Julian Barnes just a little hard to enjoy apart from Arthur & George. This was a little hard to enjoy. ( )
  asxz | Mar 13, 2019 |
Sibelius had apparently been full of dissatisfaction and self-contempt. It was said that the day he burnt all his surviving manuscripts he felt a weight lifted from his shoulders. That made sense. As did the connection between self-contempt and alcohol, the one inciting the other.

3.5 Stars. Julian Barnes crafted a patient portrait of Shostakovich. It lacks the splendor and kinesis of Bill Vollmann's searing images in Europe Central. Barnes reflects on loss and the shame of indecision. Hamlet looms large. I have been on holiday and this book is a fitting summation. Much of my time recently has involved reflecting on Nixon and Islam. This keeps me away from over-exposure to futbol and ale. My time with both have been extensive but manageable with these other pursuits.

There's also been music. I find my self staring in silence towards the idea of music these days. It is but a field of certain composers which ultimately reign in my mind. Sibelius, Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams and, well, Shostakovich. There's always a time for Count Basie or Blood on the Tracks. Yet somehow I sense a change. Barnes relates this gradual shift in priority with a deft hand. This tectonic activity remains subtle and submerged.

I should add a coda on politics and art, a soft linking of the two is explored in this novella: one which is addressed with asides and the anecdote. I would only muddle my effort. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
A magnificent reimagining of three pivotal moments in the life of Dmitri Shostakovich, focusing on three occasions when the direction of his life was determined by conversations with the Soviet authorities, or as Barnes describes it, Power.

The first part covers the events of 1936, when the opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was condemned after Stalin saw it and disapproved, resulting in the famous Pravda editorial "Muddle instead of Music". In this case the conversation is a first interview with the local secret police chief in the Leningrad Big House, after which he is reprieved because his accuser has himself been purged.

The second part moves on to 1948 and a trip to America as part of a Soviet delegation purporting to be peace envoys - this time the conversation is with Stalin himself.

The final part covers his declining years, and the conversation is the 1960 one which led to him joining the party and becoming head of the Composers' Union.

Barnes has obviously been influenced by Solomon Volkov's book Testimony, which claimed to be Shostakovich's own memoirs; while acknowledging in the postscript that its veracity has been questioned and explaining that the truth of anything that happened in Soviet Russia is rather slippery: "All this is frustrating to any biographer, but most welcome to any novelist".

Barnes is very sparing in describing the music, possibly wisely focusing more on the compromises required for survival in Stalin's Russia, the very different pressures and compromises in the time of Khrushchev ("Nikita the Corncob") and the nature of bravery and cowardice. The book is very wise on the dubious benefits of age and experience to a creative artist, and this must be at least partly about Barnes himself.

Whether or not you are interested in Shostakovich's music (I am very fond of his string quartets) this is a fascinating book and probably the best of Barnes's later novels.

I'll finish with a few quotes, as much of this book seems very quotable:

"The system of retribution had been greatly improved, and was so much more inclusive than it used to be"

"Who engineers the engineers?"

"Art is the whisper of history heard above the noise of time"

"It is our destiny to become in old age what in youth we would have most despised"

"Integrity is like virginity: once lost, never recoverable"

"Sarcasm was irony which had lost its soul"

"Well, few lives ended fortissimo and in the major" ( )
  bodachliath | Sep 14, 2018 |
The Noise of Time delivers a gradually unfolding tale of the life of Shostakovich beneath the pervasive and seemingly inevitable threat and fears of violence, torture, arrest, death,
and harm to his family and friends. How he responds to denunciation, false acceptance, and collusion while continuing to write great music is a testimonial to the pure power of creativity.

The writing remains sparse, clear, and moving.
(Less of "the Corncob" would be welcome.)

He is the first author I can remember who mentions a man enjoying Solitaire to calm himself, a relaxation I share.

What was the threat that finally made him join The Party? ( )
  m.belljackson | Aug 17, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
In 1979, a book purporting to be Shostakovich’s memoir, entitled “Testimony,” appeared in the West, depicting a frustrated composer who despised Communism and hid veiled critiques of the Soviet regime in his music. . . . Barnes, who acknowledges “Testimony” as one of his major sources, gives us a mournfully sarcastic, frustrated Shostakovich, at once mocking of his Soviet patrons and stymied by his inability to break with them fully. In a sort of third-person monologue of impressions, vignettes, and diaristic reflections, he comes off as neither heroic nor craven, though he exhibits both traits on occasion. ...
... [W]ith this drily self-chastising, depressed, and exhausted composer, Barnes is also shielding himself from other Shostakoviches, such as the one who fiercely criticized an avant-garde young composer, whose work he had hitherto supported, when he discovered the deputy culture minister sitting in the audience and became frightened.
added by aileverte | editThe New Yorker, Nikil Saval (May 26, 2016)
Music was what Shostakovich "put up against the noise of time." Barnes' stirring novel about what is lost when tyrants try to control artistic expression leaves us wondering what, besides more operas, this tormented, compromised musical prodigy might have composed had he been free.
added by aileverte | editNPR, Heller McAlpin (May 10, 2016)
Using this third-person “Shostakovich,” but often switching into an unlocatable voice, like a biographer behind a literary veil, Barnes deftly covers three big episodes in the composer’s life: denunciation in Pravda and subsequent implication in an assassination plot; his trip to America, where he is humiliated as a Soviet stooge; and lastly, being forced to join the Communist Party. This story is truly amazing, as Barnes knows, an arc of human degradation without violence (the threat of violence, of course, everywhere). . . .
. . .
It’s a powerful portrait, and readers will have to decide whether they think this is “really” Shostakovich. I felt that he emerged as a (strangled) hero, but wished that Barnes would explain a little less, and show a bit more.
The book is, partly, an exercise in cold war nostalgia. But it’s also, more interestingly, an inquiry into the nature of personal integrity. Shostakovich made his accommodations with “Power”, and survived. For some people that damns him unequivocally. For Barnes, the matter is more complicated, and he weighs it carefully.
added by aileverte | editThe Guardian, James Lasdun (Jan 22, 2016)
The composer’s decline into ill health, the withering of his spirit, his hope that “death would liberate his music… from his life” – Barnes presents Shostakovich’s final downward spiral with a kind of ruthless inevitability (and inevitability is, as Susan Snyder says, the signal note of tragedy). Alexei Tolstoy wrote in Pravda of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony: “Here the personality submerges itself in the great epoch that surrounds it, and begins to resonate with the epoch.” Barnes has achieved a similar feat with a period of history, and a place, that despite their remoteness, are rendered in exquisite, intimate detail. He has given us a novel that is powerfully affecting, a condensed masterpiece that traces the lifelong battle of one man’s conscience, one man’s art, with the insupportable exigencies of totalitarianism.
added by aileverte | editThe Guardian, Alex Preston (Jan 17, 2016)

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Julian Barnesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hörmark, MatsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It happened in the middle of wartime, on a station platform as flat and dusty as the endless plain surrounding it.
Het gebeurde midden in de oorlog, op een perron, even vlak en stoffig als de eindeloze steppe die het omringde.
Maar ironie zou je - misschien, af en toe, naar hij hoopte - in staat kunnen stellen om dat waar je aan hechtte te behouden, zelfs als het tumult van de tijd luid genoeg werd om ruiten te laten springen. Waar hechtte hij aan? Aan muziek, zijn gezin, liefde. (p. 108)
He liked to think that he wasn't afraid of death. It was life he was afraid of, not death. He believed that people should think about death more often, and accustom themselves o the notion of it. Just letting it creep up on you unnoticed was not the best way to live. You should make yourself familiar with it. You should write about it: either in words or, in his case, music. It was his belief that if we thought about death earlier in our lives, we would make fewer mistakes. (p. 156)
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1936: Shostakovich, just thirty, fears for his livelihood and his life. Stalin, hitherto a distant figure, has taken a sudden interest in his work and denounced his latest opera. Now, certain he will be exiled to Siberia (or, more likely, shot dead on the spot), he reflects on his predicament, his personal history, his parents, various women and wives, his children all of those hanging in the balance of his fate. And though a stroke of luck prevents him from becoming yet another casualty of the Great Terror, for years to come he will be held fast under the thumb of despotism: made to represent Soviet values at a cultural conference in New York City, forced into joining the Party, and compelled, constantly, to weigh appeasing those in power against the integrity of his music.… (more)

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