The Noise of Time
By: Julian Barnes
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase
In May 1937 a man in his early thirties 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.
I read his book The Sense of an Ending (review) a few years ago and absolutely loved it–it’s definitely up there as one of my all-time favourite novels–so ever since then I’ve been keen to pick up more of his works. I was especially excited about this particular title because it bundles all my favourite themes and topics: Soviet Russia, Art, Life, Julian Barnes’ writing. Waited forever and a day for it to hit mass market paperback so it can match my copy of The Sense of an Ending but here it is now 🙂
By the way, I looooooooooooooove the book cover of this edition 😀
Guys, where was this book when I was writing my MA thesis? This book hits all the notes when it comes to the complex relationship between the Soviet state and its artists, the role of art in Soviet ideology, that contradiction between what is Russian and what is Soviet (OMG, this was my thesis right there), where does Shostakovich fall in that struggle between what the state demands and his own artistic integrity. It’s such a complex muddle and the struggle to navigate through the Soviet system, to fulfill his drive as a musician, to survive the terror of the state…Julian Barnes once again captures that struggle and the nuances quite brilliantly in his prose and the way he approached Shostakovich’s story through fragments of his life, memory, his drives and his anxieties. There were so many great quotes in this book that it covered a number of pages in my quotes journal xD
But aside from the debate between ideology and art is a story of a man struggling to come to terms with his own life, really. The slim volume essentially covers his life and all the major events along the way, from his moments of love to dwelling on his moments of failure, peppered throughout with dealing with the state and the way they defined his work. It’s fascinating and it’s sad to see how delusioned he becomes over the years, the bridge between how one imagines one’s life to be and the reality of his life becoming more and more detached.
Julian Barnes once again wrote an amazing book with The Noise of Time that hits all the right notes in laying out the struggle between Soviet ideology and art, the state and art, and the complexities of being alive and the decisions we make over the course of a lifetime. It was funny at times, but also heartbreaking. I highly recommend this book if you’re into literary and historical fiction titles, as well as books set during the Soviet period.