Friday, June 8, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

My historical fiction/history book group’s last choice (mine) was The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes. I love his writing and had bought this book a while ago but it’s been sitting on my shelf. Choosing it for the book group ensured I would get to it.

I loved it, though it wasn’t a favorite of the group. Almost aggressively literary in style, it has a disjointed, fragmentary rhythm. It’s a deeply psychological book, so that there is not a lot of action. Rather, the angst-filled protagonist spends a lot of time ruminating. Still, it is so intense and so beautifully written that I was hooked from the beginning. (Not the very beginning. The prologue had me concerned it would be a difficult read.)

The Noise of Time is a fictional "biography" of Dmitri Shostakovich, a brilliant Soviet-era composer whose strained relationship to "Power" defines the book as it no doubt defined his life. Was he a communist? A collaborator? Or simply a man determined to make music despite the misfortune of circumstance?

Shostakovich is not an attractive hero, but he is a realistic one. One by one, he sacrifices his ideals in order to survive and to protect his family and his artistic integrity. (His family survives, but he wonders about his artistic integrity.)

The book is a marvelous study of Soviet oppression and psychological terror. The violence is not overt, but it is unsettling all the same. Read this one to compare and contrast with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. While I enjoyed the Towles’ story much more, maybe it’s better to be unsettled by the story of a real survivor of the Russian revolution than charmed by a fictional survivor’s story.