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P. G. Harris

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Hunters & Collectors
Hunters & Collectors
by M. Suddain
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

4.0 out of 5 stars You can check out any time you like,but you can never leave, 29 July 2016
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This review is from: Hunters & Collectors (Paperback)
I started this book looking for something new and different. Half way through I was ready to give up on it in a mood of exasperation. In the end, and thinking about it afterwards, I came to rather like it. It is a book with some definite problems but it is original, creative, and thought provoking.

It is the story of Jonathan Tamberlain, who drops out of a private education, to travel around the universe as a restaurant critic. The first third or so of the book tells of his ascent to become Tomahawk, the anonymous reviewer, renowned and feared across the galaxy. It is told in almost found footage fashion,through a disconnected series of excerpts from letters and journals. On his travels, Tamberlain learns of the Hotel Grand Skies, fabulously exclusive, and reportedly location of the greatest restaurant in the universe.

The rest of the book,after a brief but significant involvement in galactic politics,is concerned with Tamberlain's stay at the hotel along with agent, the Daniel Woodbine (aka the Beast) and bodyguard Gladys Green.

For me, Hunters and Collectors is three things. Firstly it, like much SF, is actually more about contemporary society than the far future. It is cruel satire from the vary large scale, down to tiny detail. So, we have a galaxy divided into West and East,where the affluent west consumes goods created by child labour in the despotic east. Tamberlain, is part of a celebrity culture for whom a crisis is caused by the "first Galaxy"problem of not being able to obtain the right brand of notebook, a thinly disguised Moleskin.

Secondly it is a spectacularly violent gothic horror/morality tale. In its vision of technological retribution, it shares much with the digital hells of Iain M Banks' Surface Detail.

Thirdly it is a light-devouringly black comedy. I have read reviews which reference the Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, but that is somewhat misleading. The joyful irreverence of Douglas Adams is entirely absent. If there is a comic comparison, it is with the threatening grotesquery of the League of Gentlemen.

The main problem I had with it was that it verges towards the overlong and self indulgent. The central section of the book doesn't so much twist as feel like walking down a corridor which every so often rotates slightly, giving a subtly altered view of reality. I just felt there were too many such realignments. If you couple that with characters none of whom is particularly sympathetic, you get a long section where people you don't really care about act in inexplicable ways in a constantly changing and confusing environment. This was the source of my exasperation.

The fact that I eventually forgave the author is testament to the skilful way in which he handles the denouement, bringing together the confusing plot strands and providing a credible and coherent explanation for what earlier appeared unfathomable.

So,while I maintain that this could, with better editing, have been a superior work, it has sufficient merit to warrant a positive recommendation.

Some Luck
Some Luck
by Jane Smiley
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Mid-Western Novel, 13 July 2016
This review is from: Some Luck (Hardcover)
Being described as "The Great American Novel" is a ridiculously over-used epithet, and it is one used in the blurb for Some Luck. One of the triumphs of this wonderful book is that it arguably illustrates that there can be no such thing. This is undoubtedly a Great Mid-western Novel, but surely America is simply too big to be encompassed in a single work. (Unless, of course Mark Twain achieved just that on a raft on the Mississipi)

Some Luck is the story of the Langdon family, farmers in Iowa. It begins in 1920, with Walter Langdon, having returned from the war in Europe to buy a farm and start a family with his wife, Rosanna. Their tale is told episodically, through to the mid fifties, with a chapter being assigned to each year. We don't get a comprehensive account of each year, but merely see a snapshot of the important events, either in the lives of the family,or in the wider world.

This gives the book an interesting, and in a strange way optimistic perspective. So, while the book takes us through the crash of '29, the dust bowl years,and the Second World War, these are seen as transitory events. Yes, the family suffers in the Great Depression, but it is not,as in say, Steinbeck, the overwhelming feature of the book, it is merely a period which is a part of a much broader view of time. This also means that the individual tragedies of the Langdons are every bit as important as the global crises through which they live.

The story is told at different times through the eyes of different characters,including those of the children. For example one early chapter which really drew me into the story, is the uncomprehending worldview of Walter and Rosanna's first child Frank. Walter, Rosanna, and their various children,Joey, Claire, Henry, Lillian and Mary Elizabeth all get their turns (amongst others), but if there is a central character, it is the borderline sociopathic Frank. We see him grow from wilful child, to self contained teenager, brilliant but lone student, coldly efficient soldier, and finally somewhat uncomfortable family man.

Some Luck is not structured as a single story, building to a denouement, partly,of course, because it is the first of a trilogy, but mainly because it is primarily a book about continuity, about the ongoing narrative of the family which rolls on inexorably, diverted , but not stopped, by the obstacles of history.

I loved the people in what is essentially a character driven work, and within that, author Smiley, brilliantly portrays the ways in which children of the same parents can and do develop into very different people, and have very different relationships with their father and mother.

It is a very emotional work, with the smallest childhood tragedy of a dying puppy, through the loss of a child, to the global horror of the holocaust all being sensitively and affectingly described.

I absolutely loved Some Luck, Smiley's style makes for a really easy read, but one in which she explores the challenges of daily life in a very profound and involving way. I'm really looking forward to reading the next two parts after I've fully digested this one.

The Stone Man - A Science Fiction Horror Novel
The Stone Man - A Science Fiction Horror Novel
by Luke Smitherd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If the aliens are so clever, why are they so rubbish?, 4 July 2016
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Andy is journalist living and working in Coventry. When a stone figure materialises in the centre of the city, he is on to the biggest story of his career. When he realises his proximity to it has given him a psychic connection with it, he is drawn into a terrifying ordeal as he slowly uncovers its purpose.

Andy is the main voice in the book, and it is a found footage voice as he sits in an hotel room near the end of his personal involvement in the story, narrating his account into a video camera.

The Stone man feels like what it originally was, a self published novel. It's two main virtues are common to such works, a strong central concept, and a gripping pace.

Like so many high concept works, however, it is absolutely full of plot holes, most of which can be summarised in one question, "if those behind the Stone Man are so clever, (teleportation, psychic control, force fields , living stone, manipulating gravity),why are they so rubbish?". To be fair the author tries to explain things away, but it smacks of being wedded to the central concept, seeing the problems that presents, and then tying himself in knots in an attempt to make things coherent.

While the pace is good, the writing isn't great, one cliche trips over another, and it is frequently ungrammatical.

One final point of note, it is quite fun, rather than Washington, New York or London being flattened, to see poor old Coventry having seven bells knocked out of it. The author even manages to get a reference to Coventry turning into a Ghost Town in there.

So, for what it is, it's OK, but please don't take that as a recommendation that it's good, it's not. It is a pulpy piece of self published tosh.

The Shadow Of The Wind
The Shadow Of The Wind
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but strangely unengaging melodrama, 21 Jun. 2016
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This review is from: The Shadow Of The Wind (Paperback)
Barcelona, 1945. Young Daniel Sempere, grieving after the death of his mother, is taken to the labyrinthine Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his bookseller father and allowed to choose one book. Attracted by the binding, he selects the Shadow of the Wind, by virtually forgotten author, Julian Carax. He quickly falls in love with his new possession, but also finds out that others are interested in it. A rival bookseller offers him a large amount of money. A mysterious stranger in the street obliquely threatens him to try to obtain the book, while in the background a madman is intent on burning every copy of Carax's works he can find.

As Daniel grows up, he slowly unravels the mystery of the book. It is a tale of tragic young love, schoolboy friendships and rivalries, illicit affairs, and dubious parentage, of duels, murders and suicides, of sadism , sacrifice and devotion. All of this plays out in a Franco's Spain, where fear of the state constantly stalks its citizens.

Many reviews refer to the book as gothic, but I'm not sure it is. Certainly much of it takes place at nighttime, in candlelit rooms, dark alleyways and subterranean crypts, but it lacks the element of the supernatural. The evil here is very much corporeal. This is much more a great big Victorian style melodramatic yarn. The emphasis is on plotting and narrative rather than having the deep psychological foundations of the truly gothic.

It is in the plotting that the Shadow of the Wind is at its most intriguing, as elements of the plot of the fictional novel, the story of Carax's life,and Daniel's own unfolding narrative, seemingly reflect each other and eventually become intertwined.

The characters, on the other hand, tend towards lacking at least one dimension. Daniel is a bit too much the stereotypical bookish teenager, his father a little too saintly, their friend Fermin a bit too much the archetypal lovable rogue, the villain a little too Bond-like, giving enough information about what he is going to do to give the heroes time to escape. The female characters are even less well developed than the men.

The structure is rather uneven. The first half is slow. There is a whole sub-plot early on which has no relation to the rest of the book. It is almost as if the author started writing one book, but ended up writing a completely different one. There are seemingly endless descriptions of streets and buildings when this reader was waiting for the plot to get moving. Eventually, when Daniel starts discovering the truth about Carax, and becoming entangled in the story himself, the pace picks up. However, suddenly it is as if author Zafon realises it is still going to take too long to get to the denouement and inserts a massive Basil Exposition style chapter as a letter from one character to another explains the entire plot.

Another way of looking at this book is as a thriller, but it is a whatdoneit, or a whydoneit rather than a whodunnit. The identity of the mysterious stranger can be guessed pretty quickly, leaving the mystery to be what he is trying to achieve and why.

Overall, as an entertainment, as an intriguing mystery, complete with a rapidly twisting plot, The Shadow of the Wind works, despite its faults. However, I found it a it difficult to engage with fully. That could be something to do with the translation. I'm not sure why, but I get the feeling that the writing would be more lively and sparky in the original Spanish.

Other books this brought to mind? The post Harry Potter adult fantastical mystery is reminiscent of the awful Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel. As a thriller with a bookish heart, the even more execrable DaVinci Code comes to mind. This is better than both of those. As a historical mystery, it is not as successful as the Name of the Rose. Certainly Zafon is no Dickens, so perhaps the closest comparison, as a melodramatic mystery, is with Wilkie Collins.

Enjoyable but lightweight.

The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District
The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District
by James Rebanks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars I went to that there posh university, it was alright, 24 May 2016
At the end of the first chapter of a Shepherds Life, author James Rebanks, when commenting unfavourably on outsiders not understanding the culture of the true Lake District,suggests that if we want to understand people in the foothills of Afghanistan we should try to understand those in the foothills of England first. At the point I read this I was not favourably disposed towards a book which opened with a gleeful account of bullying at school and an overall misanthropic, xenophobic tone. I found myself thinking that while there may be some truth in the statement, it would help if those in the foothills weren't so small minded and bigoted.

In the end, however, I really enjoyed the book, probably because of four things, the sheer quality of the writing, the fascinating nature of the subject matter, the obvious passion of the author and finally the fact that through the book, he broadens his horizons and becomes more tolerant of outsiders in his beloved Lake District. While he portays himself as a chippy Cumbrian farmer through to the end, he has become one who can at least understand why those who work in cities feel the need to escape to the fells.

The way of life he describes is one of which elements have remained unchanged for thousands of years. A socially tight knit but geographically diverse community of farmers whose lives are driven by the cycle of the seasons and by the reproductive cycle of sheep which are released onto the fells in summer, returned to lower ground in Autumn and winter, ready for lambing in the spring. The overall structure of the book reflects this ancient cycle. The endlessly repeating seasons form the basic framework, with the narrative of Rebanks' life weaving backwards and forwards in time between different episodes.

He tells the story of sheep fairs, of hard bargaining for livestock based on mutual respect, of the dangers of battling against snow to keep sheep alive, of the training of sheepdogs, of the endless economic struggle. One of his strongest themes is that if the untutored intelligence of his fellow farmers. It is a world of hard men and women, where respect is hard won, but where an agile mind is necessary to keep on top of the challenges of lambing time, or to develop strong breeding lines within a flock.

It is a world which everything is focussed on the farm and on its viability, but Rebanks is not so blinkered as to be blind to the beauty around him. At times the descriptions of the natural world around him are certainly lyrical, and verge on the poetic. The flights of Fieldfare,the running of hares, the silver of fish in the streams. These are descriptions come from a writer clearly fully immersed in the world he is describing.

The book also has its moments of humour. Watching a fox baffle the hounds by using the scent of sheep to obscure his trail, or Rebanks giving a lucid account of poaching fish "about which he's heard" before going on to decry the activity as utterly illegal.

The book is called The Shepherds Life and that it is what it described, although I couldn't help feeling that half of it is missing. The author left home, obtained a serious education, and drops hints about a pretty fascinating job away from the farm, but actually says very little about this other life. I'd love to know more.

So, this started out as a book which, after the first chapter, I thought I was going to hate but which I ended up really liking. I read it as a book club book and opinion was polarised. One person who had worked on a farm loved it. Another from Cumbria hated what she saw as the author's arrogance. A third was closer to my view of liking it despite not expecting to. You mayor may not end up liking James Rebanks, but you'll certainly end up respecting him.

Cateran Trail: A Circular Walk in the Heart of Scotland
Cateran Trail: A Circular Walk in the Heart of Scotland
by Jacquetta Megarry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Don't rely on it!, 4 May 2016
The Cateran Trail is a stunningly beautiful walk. It is also excellently signposted. This is a good thing for purchasers of these book, because if you were to rely purely upon it, you'd be in trouble. The directions are vague, they give little or no concept of distance, significant features are missed out, and mileages are often wrong. On one page the distance from Kirkton to Alyth is 14 miles, on another, 11 miles. It also relies on transient information, for example giving directions past a field of ponies. One change of field usage by a farmer, bingo, out of date walking guide.

It is also nice to be provided with information about the surroundings and history of a walk,especially one as historic as this. In here there is little or nothing.

Woza Shakespeare: "Titus Andronicus" in South Africa (Biography and Autobiography)
Woza Shakespeare: "Titus Andronicus" in South Africa (Biography and Autobiography)
by Anthony Sher
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly compelling, 3 May 2016
Woza Shakespeare is the story of a production of Titus Andronicus. Uniquely it is the story of a production staged at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg by Gregory Doran and partner Anthony Sher. It is the story of that production touring Leeds, London and Spain. Crucially it took place just after the end of apartheid in South Africa.

With that background it is a book in which much can be found. Its central theme is the relevance of what is probably Shakespeare's most spectacularly violent play, in a society damaged by the years of apartheid. Many of the answers are quite shocking in the ways that seemingly horrendous acts seem almost everyday to some of the South African actors. By playing the villains as underdogs fighting for a position in society, the production created sympathy with often vilified characters. It has parallels with the later RSC/Market Theatre production of the Tempest.

Previously I have read and thoroughly enjoyed works by Anthony Sher about the craft of building a performance. Here there is the added dimension of alternate chapters being written by Doran. This means that Sher talks mainly about the other actors and about the personal emotions of his homecoming to South Africa. It is Doran who excellently portrays the mechanics of building a production. In one moment which will be familiar to anyone who has directed anything, from the humblest am-dram to the world's greatest theatre companies, he describes the sense of powerlessness felt by a director on opening night, when he has last all control over events.

Some of the challenges faced by the company are manifest today in theatre across the world. Lacking a marketing budget, Titus plays to houses less than half full, while as one person puts it "If you were putting on 'Me and my Girl, we could fill the place twice over. Whither serious theatre in the face of populist musicals?

Critics bring a surprising angle to the play. In South Africa it is heavily slated for using South African accents rather than RP. One explanation for this is that after the cultural boycott some audience members were not yet ready for anything setting a toe outside accepted norms. This is another issue raised, the effect of the cultural boycott on the arts in South Africa, and whether it should have happened at all. (The answer is a pretty unequivocal "yes"). While the British press is a lot more positive, surprisingly there is one national paper, in the 1990s, which criticised the absence of plummy diction. Or maybe it wasn't surprising, it was the Telegraph after all.

A final joy to note is the cast of characters, brought to life in both words and, as ever, Sher's fabulous drawings.

So this, like any theatrical book by Anthony Sher, is an utterly compelling piece of writing, given extra breadth by the writing of Greg Doran, and extra depth by its social and political setting.

Carol: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
Carol: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Love story, 25 April 2016
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I read the Price of Salt, now renamed Carol, after going to see the 2015 film, which I absolutely adored. The film was true enough to the book, and powerful enough to make it impossible not, while reading, to see mental pictures from the movie, and in particular the stars, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

The story is that of Therese, a young woman with hopes of becoming a theatrical set designer, (in the film, a photographer) but who is making ends meet by working in a department store. In the run up to Christmas, she serves a glamorous middle class woman, Carol. There is an instant attraction between the two and after Therese sends Carol a Thank You Card, she is invited out to lunch,and a relationship between the two develops.

As they grow closer, we learn about three other relationships at different stages of disintegration. Theresa's increasing involvement with Carol throws a pitiless light on the shortcomings of her relationship with her boyfriend, Richard. This is a beautiful depiction of an unbalanced couple where one is filled with ardour, while the other, being fond, doesn't quite realise that she has fallen into a relationship of habit without any real strength of feeling.

Carol herself is in the process of separating from, and divorcing, her husband Harge, with custody of their daughter giving the book one of its key themes, the conflict between romantic and maternal love.

Third there is Abby, a woman with whomCarol has had a previous relationship which has now relaxed into friendship.

If it must be classified, I'm sure the Price of Salt would be categorised as lesbian fiction, and indeed I have read that many have found the story of Therese finding her sexuality to be an enlightening one. In one of the most telling lines of the book, and the period in which it was written and set, Therese describes her feelings for Carol as being like like love except they are both women. It would however be a shame to put this book in a genre pigeon hole, because it is fundamentally a love story, which tells truths about love, irrespective of the genders of the protagonists. It tells of the joy, the obsession, the insecurity of love. Carol is herself a fascinating character. At first she seems almost predatory, taking the lead with the young and inexperienced Therese, but as the story unfolds, her vulnerability becomes apparent, and she is anything but the dominant party as the book reaches it conclusion.

If w are talking about genres, there are two others which should be mentioned. This is a road movie of a book, indeed one might almost imagine it as being an influence on the writers of Thelma and Louise. It also has a strong flavour of fifties noir with private detectives and hidden firearms.

In summary, a superb, compelling and convincing love story.

Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go
Price: £5.79

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant detailed writing, but the overall concept doesn't work, 14 April 2016
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This review is from: Never Let Me Go (Kindle Edition)
In an alternative late 20th century Britain, Kath, Ruth and Tommy live a seemingly idyllic life at a country boarding school. Overseen by stern but caring Guardians, they are encouraged in both artistic creativity and sporting prowess, but above all to be healthy. As they grow up, the truth of their lives is slowly revealed to them, that they are clones, created to be organ donors to enable the general population to live beyond 100.

In the second act they move out into run down, halfway house, accommodation where they come of age, exploring their sexuality, trying to learn who they are by looking for people from whom they may have been cloned, and clinging to stories that they may be able to defer their eventual donations by proving they are truly in love.

In the final part of the story Ruth and Tommy have become donors, while Kath is a carer, her own donations on hold while travelling the country helping the donors until their bodies can give no more and they reach "completion".

So what is Never Let Me Go? As an alternate history, is it science fiction? If it is, it is no more, and possibly less so than 1984 or Brave New World. This is a book about the people and their relationships. As a book about children and teenagers growing into young adulthood in a dystopia, and having a love triangle at its heart, it has the classic elements of YA fiction, but it feels too deep, too nuanced for that. The closest I can get to it is to see it as an allegory of mortality. In the first act the children slowly learn about the facts of their own eventual deaths. In the second act they are both finding themselves, and searching for ways of cheating death. In the final section, they must finally give up hope of escape and come to terms with their own impending doom, Ruth slipping weakly into its arms, Tommy raging against the dying of the light, and Kath facing it calmly and stoically, accepting inevitability. Within this reading of the book religion takes something of a kicking. In childhood, the element of the story which takes the place of faith is a mystery accepted by the children, in teenage years it is seen as a source of redemption, but in adulthood it becomes an empty vessel which offers them nothing.

Never Let Me Go is at its strongest in concentrating on the relationships between the characters. In this respect, Ishiguro is quite brilliant in capturing the petty squabbles and alliances of childhood which then develop into a hormonally charged mix of supportiveness and spite, of closeness and competition as the young people pass through adolescence. Finally he allows his characters to mature and, heartbreakingly, accept their fate.

So, on a detailed level, I would go so far as to describe this book as quite wonderful. I am less enthusiastic when considering it as a whole. I am afraid, taking a step back, I just couldn't buy into the overall concept. With speculative fiction, (and that is a categorisation which fits here) an author can be as wildly creative and fantastical as s/he likes, but for a book to have real credibility, to have emotional heft, the people within it must act and react to their surroundings in recognisable and realistic ways. That is the test which this book fails. I just couldn't connect with a book in which children in late 20th Century Britain, are farmed for their organs. I couldn't believe in characters who meekly accept their fate. Yes they are conditioned from birth, but in any society, however conditioned, there are always rebels. Yes, as I have said, Tommy rages against the dying of the light, but he doesn't rage against those switching it off. The carers watch the fate of their fellow donors, watch people with whom they grew up being surgically dismantled and then meekly accept the same death. The only resistance to the horror are some well meaning people who want to make sure that the children are treated well before being ripped apart. I doubt Ishiguro meant this, but the book could be read as an animal rights allegory. Living creatures are farmed before being killed to provide for society, and the best they can hope for is to be treated ethically before the slaughter.

So, the book only really works metaphorically, and struggles to do that because while the relationships are brilliantly portrayed, the individual characters do not act believably.

The Noise of Time
The Noise of Time
by Julian Barnes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concerto for composer and totalitarian state, 13 April 2016
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This review is from: The Noise of Time (Hardcover)
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. As Shostakovich's compromises grow, so his sense of self worth diminishes, until attend at the end, having given speeches written by State representatives, having publicly denounced fellow composers whom he secretly worships,and having finally joined the organ of oppression, he is filled with self loathing and self condemnation as a coward.

Barnes is more generous to his subject. Shostakovich has stayed alive, and through his compromises saved his family and those around him. The author is less kind to those who have escaped to the west and live more comfortably than the troubled composer, to those who applaud rebellion from a safe distance, and to western visitors blind to the faults of the communist regime.

I did a rare thing with this book in that I re-read it almost immediately after first finishing it. That was partly a function of it being so short, virtually a novella, partly a function of it being elegantly written and eminently readable, but mainly to seek for deeper meaning.

Therein lie my greatest problems with the Noise of Time. It didn't really have anything new to say. The story of Shostakovich is well known, as are the calumnies of Stalin's state terror. The choice between resisting oppression and dying physically, or compromising and dying spiritually is a well visited place,often with more passion and engagement than this coldly detached story. Barnes is subtle and nuanced but in the end he felt too distant for me really to warm to his characters.

I also struggle a little with the whole concept of a fictionalised biography of a real person. In using Shostakovich as a mouthpiece for his musings on art and the state, and for his own manifesto,is Barnes any less exploitative than those opening on the composer's position from the comfort of their American homes?

So, in the end I liked this book, and it is meticulously researched, but it is not one about which I would enthuse greatly.

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