The Noise of Time

  • by Julian Barnes
  • Narrated by Daniel Philpott
  • 5 hrs and 41 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In May 1937, a man in his early 30s 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.


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Art belongs to everybody and nobody.

A soul could be destroyed in one of three ways: by what others did to you; by what others made you do to yourself; and by what you voluntarily did to yourself. Any single method was sufficient; though if all three were present, the outcome was irresistible."
― Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time

The last Julian Barnes I read was 'The Sense of an Ending' which seemed to float perfectly as a short novel. The prose was as delicate, smooth and perfect as rosette frosting. I'm not sure Nabokov would want to follow that novel, but eventually Barnes was bound to write his next novel, comparisons be damned.

'The Noise of Time' is a short 200 page novel about the life and times of Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the great composers of the 20th century. This is not exactly new ground. 11 years ago William T. Vollmann also used the life of Shostakovich to explore the nature of evil, power, etc. Vollmann used Shostakovich as one of several voices to tell his stories. In some ways, Europe Central explores WWII as a symphony and the life of Shostakovich happens to just be one of the major instruments. In 'The Noise of Time' Barnes explores art and music using Shostakovich as a single instrument.

Barnes uses the relationship between Shostakovich and Stalin (later the Soviet state) to delve into how power and fear can externally affect the artist. But he goes further and looks at how man can affect his own art in relationship to the outside world. He looks at how irony is used as a defense against external forces that would control and destroy.

One of my favorite lines from this novel is:

“Art belongs to everybody and nobody. Art belongs to all time and no time. Art belongs to those who create it and those who savour it. Art no more belongs to the People and the Party than it once belonged to the aristocracy and the patron. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time. Art does not exist for art’s sake: it exists for people’s sake.”

Anyway, this month I've been a bit obsessed with Shostakovich. After reading two fictionalized accounts his life, I've also been sucked down the Russian rabbit hole of his Symphonies (primarily the 5th, 7th, and 1oth). These three symphonies play a significant role in both books, so I'm glad to have been reminded several times this year that I should listen to more post-romantics than just Gustav Mahler. Thank you Julian Barnes and William T. Vollmann to push me into the small, shaking hands of Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich.
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- Darwin8u "I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^"


Not an easy read, often tedious and often confusing. throughput the book I kept getting confused about Stalin's state,at one point I believed he was dead only to discover he wasn't. this happened several times! To many digressions and rambling psycho babel. there we're moments of interest to be sure but the style might be more associated by an English major or an academic
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- Michael Cox "Audiophile"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-28-2016
  • Publisher: Whole Story Audiobooks