The Noise of Time: A novel
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
A compact masterpiece dedicated to the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich: Julian Barnes’s first novel since his best-selling, Man Booker Prize–winning The Sense of an Ending.
In 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, executed on the spot), Shostakovich reflects on his predicament, his personal history, his parents, various women and wives, his children—and all who are still alive themselves hang in the balance of his fate. And though a stroke of luck prevents him from becoming yet another casualty of the Great Terror, for decades 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. Barnes elegantly guides us through the trajectory of Shostakovich’s career, at the same time illuminating the tumultuous evolution of the Soviet Union. The result is both a stunning portrait of a relentlessly fascinating man and a brilliant exploration of the meaning of art and its place in society.
the three Varzar sisters, straight off the tennis court, exuding cheerfulness, laughter and sweat. Athletic, confident, popular, with such golden hair that it somehow seemed to turn her eyes golden. A qualified physicist, an excellent photographer who had her own darkroom. Not over-interested in domestic matters, it was true; but then neither was he. In a novel, all his life’s anxieties, his mixture of strength and weakness, his potential for hysteria – all would have been swirled away in a
finally come together in one glorious joint project. Music and literature and theatre and film and architecture and ballet and photography would form a dynamic partnership, not just reflecting society or criticising it or satirising it, but making it. Artists, of their own free will, and without any political direction, would help their fellow human souls develop and flourish. Why not? It was the artist’s oldest dream. Or, as he now thought, the artist’s oldest fantasy. Because the political
landing. Had he not known it would go immediately into his official file, he might have tried this decadent Western invention. Fear: what did those who inflicted it know? They knew that it worked, even how it worked, but not what it felt like. ‘The wolf cannot speak of the fear of the sheep,’ as they say. While he had been awaiting orders from the Big House in St Leninsburg, Oistrakh had been expecting arrest in Moscow. The violinist had described to him how, night after night, they came for
last and always be needed, music can say anything, music … and so on. He stopped his ears while they explained to him the nature of his own art. He applauded their idealism. And yes, music might be immortal, but composers alas are not. They are easily silenced, and even more easily killed. As for the accusation of pessimism – this was hardly the first time it had been voiced. And they would protest: No, no, you do not understand, we are just trying to help. So the next time they came, from their
Khrennikov. Part of him hoped that no one would believe – no one could believe – that he actually agreed with what the letters said. But people did. Friends and fellow musicians refused to shake his hand, turned their backs on him. There were limits to irony: you cannot sign letters while holding your nose or crossing your fingers behind your back, trusting that others will guess you do not mean it. And so he had betrayed Chekhov, and signed denunciations. He had betrayed himself, and he had