So far Julian Barnes is a hit or miss author with me. I thought The Sense of an Ending and Flaubert’s Parrot were great but I loathed Arthur and George and I thought History of the World in 10 1/2 had its moments. Luckily I did like The Noise of Time but I don’t consider it Barnes’ best.
The novel focuses on three occasions when the composer Dimitri Shostakovich encountered the Russian government, or as it is called in the book, The Power. The first one is when he was about to be denounced for his controversial opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District via an accusation that he was plotting to kill Stalin, but his interrogator was arrested.
The second encounter is when Stalin asked him to go to the US and give a speech
The third one happens post Stalin and Shostakovich is asked to join the communist party.
I guess each encounter is a snapshot of what Russian politics and culture was like at the time. At first it was a reign of terror which softened but still gave out little sparks of fear now and then. We readers also get a picture of Shostakovich, his loves, losses and eccentricities. Ultimately though the main question is whether art is for the people, personal pleasure or for the state. Barnes gets this message across in a semi humorous manner.
The Noise of Time is solid. At 180 pages it is a steady read. There aren’t any frills but Barnes does tell a well crafted tale. Since I know nothing about Shostakovich, bar the pieces of music Kubrick included in Eyes Wide Shut, it was fun reading about his life as well