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The Noise of Time Paperback – 5 Jan 2017

4.1 out of 5 stars 120 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 01 edition (5 Jan. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 178470332X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1784703325
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (120 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"A great novel, Barnes’s masterpiece… Exquisite, intimate detail. He has given us a novel that is powerfully affecting, a condensed masterpiece that traces the lifelong battle of one man’s conscience, one man’s art, with the insupportable exigencies of totalitarianism." (Alex Preston Observer)

"Barnes’s sombre, brilliant new novel opens with a scene like something from a story by ChekhovGleaming with intelligence and literary flair, this elegantly composed fictional meditation offers a fresh gloss on a musical genius’s collisions and collusions with power." (Peter Kemp Sunday Times)

"[Barnes is] a master of the narrative sidestep… Not just a novel about music, but something more like a musical novel… The story itself is structured in three parts that come together like a broken chord. It is a simple but brilliant device, and one that goes right to the heart of this novel." (Robert Douglas-Fairhurst The Times)

"A compelling novel about art and power, courage and cowardice, and the capriciousness of fate…Barnes brilliantly captures the composer’s conflicted state of mind…This book is only 190 pages long, but it packs an extraordinary emotional punch." (Sebastian Shakespeare Tatler)

"The writing in the early pages is magnificentThe reader has the confidence of being in the hands of a master storyteller… Barnes has a good sense of what life was like in the Soviet Union. He captures well the black humor, irony and cynicism." (Orlando Figes New York Review of Books)

"Julian Barnes’ novel deftly evokes the complexity of Shostakovich’s relationship with Stalin and the power of his oeuvre… Thick with period detail… The book returns us to the music itself, that immense 20th-century oeuvre that contains everything but confirms nothing." (Hedley Twidle Financial Times)

"Gripping… An intimately illuminating montage of Shostakovich’s life… Immediately engaging." (James Lasdun Guardian)

"A novel of deceptive slenderness... You expect nothing less from a writer soaked in Flaubert." (Duncan White Daily Telegraph)

"A series of elegant insights into the mind of a brilliant artist… Throughout, Barnes offers a surety of touch that few writers can match." (Independent on Sunday)

"[A] sad, self-lacerating and darkly funny hybrid of a novel. The Noise of Time is both a burrowing meditation on an artist’s lifelong relationship with totalitarian power, fear and compromise, and a fascinating fictional biography of one of the 20th century’s greatest composers… Barnes is a master." (Tod Wodicka The National)

"A profound meditation on power and the relationship of art and power… It presents a life, and refrains from judgment. It is a masterpiece of sympathetic understanding… I don’t think [Barnes] has written a finer, more truthful or more profound book." (Allan Massie The Scotsman)

"The skilled novelist here brings alive not just the political turmoil that surrounded Shostakovich, but his love for his wives, his love for his children, a vivid counterpoint of artistic freedom and political oppression – the eloquent conjuring of one glass of vodka clinking against another." (The Economist)

Book Description

A compelling novel about art and power, courage and cowardice from the Booker-winning author of The Sense of An Ending

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A man sits by a lift at night in a Russian apartment waiting for the secret police to take him away for interrogation, trial and potential execution. He waits by the lift so as not to disturb his family. He has a suitcase in the belief that those who go prepared are more likely to be released eventually.

The scene is set in Stalin's USSR in the 1930s and the waiting man is composer Shostakovich whose work has been condemned by the state, and who has a known association with a high ranking official accused of plotting to assassinate the Soviet leader.

That Shostakovich is not taken away and shot is a matter of historical fact and sets the ground rules for this novel. This is not a book of narrative complexity, of unfolding plot, or of suspense. It comprises three movements which author Julian Barnes refers to as conversations with power. After the first encounter with Stalin, the story jumps forward twelve years and Shostakovich is coerced into representing the USSR on a cultural visit to the US. In the third movement the old despot has gone, and Khrushchev is ostensibly more open and liberal, but still manipulates and manoeuvres the composer into taking a high ranking job, and,for the first time, joining the party.

The book is therefore fundamentally an exploration of the relationship between art and power, between the artist and a totalitarian state. At its heart it is close to being a manifesto for the value of art for art's sake and freedom of expression, for following the artist's creative instincts rather than popular taste. It then goes on to question what compromises are necessary or acceptable.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought ‘The Noise of Time’ after reading an enthusiastic review in the FT and I was not disappointed. Although the volume is a slim one (and the binding disappointingly cheap) the narrative is poetic, evocative and at times deeply moving. (I confess to a bit of cry while reading the closing pages.)

So often we read of the heroes, who sacrifice all for their principles, or the villains, who have abandoned theirs. Rarely do we read about the space in between, and the toll it exacts from those who attempt to coexist with power and their conscience.

Particularly impressive is Barnes’s creation of a unique literary space for his work, in a crowded galaxy of conflicting biographies. ‘The Noise of Time’ is not an attempt at history or biography, but a creative imagining of the other in both time and place.

A big thank you to the author for a wonderful book!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I'm not sure just exactly what this book wants to be. Biography of sorts, an exploration of artistic life in the Soviet state, the dreams, fears and recollections of an important 20th Century musical figure? Who knows? The writing is at times poetically classy, only to be expected of such an accomplished author yet his protagonist veers from battered victim to snide collaborator, sometimes in the same paragraph.

Shostakovich couldn't win. Even to have survived the Purges and Terror of the 1930s put you under suspicion during the more liberal 50s and 60s and one of his later tormentors even alludes to him being one of Stalin's pets. The author tends to overdo the self introspection and we get a vision of a paranoid, nail chewing introvert who can't even find solace in his art. I'm not sure if this is an honest picture of the composer, yet as I mentioned earlier, this book is hardly a biography in the traditional sense of the word.

I craved for some lightness and sunlight which came in only tiny snippets like the evocative memory as he and Netta (his first wife) finished a tennis match. Nothing much changes with the death of Stalin as one form of persecution and paranoia replaces the other. This is where a greater analysis of the music could have helped. There is not just bleakness, war, hate, parody and satire in his music but tremendous joy, love and humour - consider his 9th Symphony; not just anti-Stalinist parody but one of the finest examples since Mozart of musical humour.

Yes, these were terrible times, The Revolution, The Civil War, Famine, Purges, The Gulags, Slaughter, War, Cold War, Espionage and Defections. Unfortunately we see only this side of Shostakovich and much of the basic humanity of the composer is lost.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just loved this. Shostakovich 's agonised relationship with Stalin and the Soviet state have been a personal obsession for years. I slightly feared this fictionalised version might interfere or spoil that. In lesser hands it would have done. But not Barnes. He writes with such economy but humanity about a time when an everyman's ethics seemed to be oppressively grey.

Of course Shostakovich was no everyman. His genius is probably key to his physical survival. But his human frailties were the reasons he was so broken by the regime. Barnes evokes the confusion of his predicament perfectly, with not a beat or tone out of place.

Thoroughly recommended.
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