Julian Barnes – The Noise of Time


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

Book 764 Julian Barnes – Flaubert’s Parrot


It is official – When re reading a novel after a 12 year gap you discover so many new things. I’m amazed at how much I missed the first time round.

Anyway Geoffrey Breathwaite is a doctor who discovers two stuffed parrots and both state that they were borrowed by French writer Gustav Flaubert. Breathwaite then spends the rest of the book trying to figure out which parrot is the real one. In the process we, as readers are treated to an in depth study of Flaubert, albeit in non chronological order and via trivial aspects of his life , which are springboards to the most important aspects. The novel ends with a university style final examination which bring all aspects of this book to the forefront.

But that’s not all.

In his quest , we readers learn that writing is indeed a mirror of life and Geoffrey in his struggles to discover the parrot, goes through a process of self realization as well. Mainly that his life – and I assume that our lives owe a lot to writing. This is evident in the third last chapter.

Flaubert’s Parrot is a complex novel , but deceptively so. The reader is on a ride that’s both informative and interesting. This is ,  I feel , an experimental novel should be like. Maybe Barnes has done better ( his latest novel, The Sense of an Ending, is a masterpiece) but the intellectual playfulness one finds in Flaubert’s Parrot is totally missing.