The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes.
I have just finished this unusual and intriguing novel, maybe it’s not so unusual for a Julian Barnes novel, it is the first one I have read, so it may not be so unusual after all. A few months ago I did read his collected essays on art and artists: Keeping an Eye Open, it was a follow on from many years ago, 1989, of reading his book of short stories: A History of The World in 10 ½ Chapters, in which he first wrote about art in a chapter on Gericault’s The Raft of The Medusa. This book too, is about art, music mainly and one mans story in the arts.
I spotted this book as I was browsing the shelves of Waterston’s in Livingston, quite a slim volume, a plane brown dust cover, like a home-made brown paper cover of a child’s school book, with a sort of a cartoon drawing of a man with glasses; looking over his right shoulder nervously, as if he is expecting someone, he is wearing a coat and holding a case.
After I bought it; I walked over the road and settled down in the local coffee shop, only intending to read a page or two, normally, I am too easily distracted to concentrate on reading anything in public but, this book was different, I managed to read a good third before I had to move on. It is a book full of short paragraphs with lots of space between them, this made me read it quite quickly.
I thought the man in the book, who was standing by the lift, waiting for the NKVD to take him to the “big house” in the middle of the night, was a fictitious character, his name is Dmitri Dmitriyevich. I think most people will know who he is, it took me until the middle of the book to realize that Dmitri Dmitriyevich, a composer, is Shostakovich the composer. He mentions his symphonies and his opera: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk early on, I still I didn’t know who he was. This was a real surprise to me, I almost laughed out loud, I’m not sure if the author was intending to create this reaction in his readers, I think it was an unintentional bonus for me, not to know who Dmitri Dmitriyevich was. I loved the way Julian Barnes tells this story, it is like a biography, though it is I think from his imagination, after much research [I] would imagine. He gets into the head of the man and describes his fears, his bravery and cowardice, under the [power] of Stalin and the Soviet Union.
Over the course of the book, I had the sense of Dmitri Dmitriyevich getting older and the moving passage of time. Barnes’ writing is a treat, all the Russian names and places are seamlessly inserted into the prose without making it a difficult read. This is a very clever story; I don’t know if it is exactly how Shostakovitch thought about his life but, maybe some of you will have a better insight than me, all I can say is I enjoyed: The Noise of Time, and I will be giving his other novels a go.