How does one survive as an artist under a dictatorship? Centred on three defining moments in Dimitri Shostakovich's life, this fictionalised biography of the Russian composer considers the nature of art and creativity under Soviet rule.
Based around real events, it is an intimate and thoughtful novel closely observing the chilling effect of repression on one man's art and conscience.
Half of us enjoyed this book, and the way it is written - the other half read the first couple of chapters then left it. They couldn't get into the story or the style. So it was a real divider of the group.
Most found this a very challenging read, but well worth the perseverance.
Those who persisted with this novel loved and admired it for the beauty of the writing and the portrait of Shostakovich as an extraordinarily gifted composer in a totalitarian regime. It deals with the compromises and ironies in the life of a man who survives in intolerable circumstances, and gives a wonderful insight into life under Stalin. Even though the writer is himself a member of the British middle class, he writes convincingly and movingly.
Varying reactions to this book. A couple never finished it and others struggled. We agreed that it was well written, but hard work to read. Some of us felt confused by the Russian habit of using different versions of the same name. We thought it a very clever portrayal of life at that time, but, except for one person who thought the book wonderful and read it twice, for most it really was a matter of finishing the book out of duty, and with a slight sense of guilt that we should feel this way. There was some ironic humour but basically we were overwhelmed by the gloom.
Most found this book a challenging read, however it led to great discussion around individuals' responses to challenge and tragedy.
Great, but a complex read. It created a real sense of how it might have been to live in this era. The notes were essential, and very helpful for this book.
One Dutch member was most enthusiastic about this book as she could identify with the tyranny, having been caught up with the Germans in Holland during the 2nd W.W. as a child. Others found it very depressing but were still drawn in to continue reading. We all thought Barnes is a good writer.
Good discussion about Russia between 1917 and the 1950s. We like Julian Barnes' writing. We couldn't imagine what life was like under Stalin.
The group was divided on this book. Beautiful prose, but readers were either enthralled or couldn't get into it. Great commentary on communist Russia. Prompted lively discussion on Russian experiences.
Though not a long book, this was quite a challenging one. It almost needed to be read twice to take on board the profound philosophies expounded. We wondered whether these ideas were Shostakovich's or the author's, and agreed they were probably both. Barnes has clearly delved deeply into his subject, examining the many strands of life in Soviet Russia, and how they impacted on, particularly, the arts community. An exceptional story, told with succinct, incisive and sometimes wryly humorous skill...
A wonderful and brilliant book to read as our last book of the year. We all found 'The Noise of Time' a beautiful and carefully scripted book. A clever and deeply moving picture of Shostakovich's life and the difficulties and fear during that period in Soviet Russia. We wondered whether it was any better today under Putin.
We found this a very moving, sad and informative book and rated it highly. Barnes has a wonderful way with language, and great insight into the troubled human mind.