The Noise of Time – Julian Barnes
In May 1937 a man in his early thirties waits by the lift of a Leningrad apartment block. He waits all through the night, expecting to be taken away to the Big House. Any celebrity he has known in the previous decade is no use to him now. And few who are taken to the Big House ever return.”
The Noise Of Time follows the life of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich during the rule of Stalin. Despite rising to fame, Dmitri had a turbulent relationship with the Soviet Union. The book starts as his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is at its height of fame, which then is quickly dubbed an anti-formalist piece.
Written in the third person we see the highs and lows of Dmitri’s life, and his constant avoidance of the communist party, or ‘the power’. Weak and nervous, he lives in constant fear of being taken in by the party. Watching his friends disappear due to their music or views.
He finds a celebrity status with his pieces and tours the US, a second time as a propaganda tool for the Soviet Union.
The book is split into three parts; On the Landing, On the Plane, and In the Car. It starts with him standing at his building’s lift, waiting to be taken. The story jumps through his life, with him recounting random points and in no particular order.
The book is narrated in the third person, someone of whom is not specified. You learn about his family and relationships, his work and his political maneuvers.
Characters names switch between their given name and their nicknames, without explanation. This lead to me being confused, for a moment thinking the author had incorrectly spelled them. The most obvious being Dmitri’s wife, switching between Nita and Nina.
Dmitri’s relationships with others throughout the book fall flat, feeling shallow and with no substance. The story starts with how much his mother controls his life, however, she quickly disappears from the story. You would be forgiven for assuming she had passed away, however, this is not touched upon until the last few pages.
His relationships with his wife and children also feel cheap, a side note to his life. Whilst he mentions wanting to be with his family, his interactions with them have no warmth.
This also extends to his music, there is no opportunity to be with him whilst he writes these pieces that move a nation. Even when Dmitri discusses them, he portrays very little passion for the subject.
I thoroughly enjoyed the pace of The Noise of Time, the sections flowed so well, with his stories changing cohesively. The book does well at reflecting Dmitri’s weak nature, often hoping that people would understand that he didn’t really support the Communist Party when he outwardly did.
I found Dmitri to be overall, a dislikeable character, and found the book lacking in building his relationships. Unfortunately, the book seemed to fall flat and felt quite shallow to me.