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The Noise of Time

Written by: Julian Barnes
Narrated by: Daniel Philpott
Length: 5 hrs and 41 mins
3.5 out of 5 stars (3 ratings)

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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.

©2016 Julian Barnes (P)2016 W F Howes Ltd

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Captivating tale

I was gripped by this tale centred around the life of Shostakovich and his position in the Russian musical scene in Stalinist times and then during the reign of Krushuchev. I have been listening to his music nonstop after completing this wonderful novel.

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  • W Perry Hall
  • 2016-03-20

Art's Whisper of History


Julian Barnes' short novel is enriching in the aesthetics of art and music and edifying in a look at how one of history's greatest composers might have dealt with Stalin's sinister oppression and created exceptional compositions despite living in constant fear that death might be the next knock on the door.

The re-imagining of Shostakovich's life under Stalin reverberates in the ironies of humanity. We esteem courage and justice, but we also want to live. Had Shostakovich spoken out against Stalin's purges and quashing of true art, he would most certainly have been killed immediately, and the world would have been deprived of brilliant works of music. And, would his speaking out have changed anything? Or, should Shostakovich be plagued by his failure in this regard in spite of the haunting reminders he has provided history, well beyond his natural death, of the evils of communism and of Stalin and other "leaders" like him.

"Art is the whisper of history heard above the noise of time," notes the narrator of THE NOISE OF TIME. Anyone familiar with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 knows that certain "whispers" roar.

These are the ironies Barnes explores in his inspired new work.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Darwin8u
  • 2016-06-13

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.

22 of 27 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Michael Eliastam
  • 2017-02-22

And I'm in a story for our time

Yes I listen to this I heard two themes:
The terrible power of fear,
Resonance with what is starting to happen in America now. Immigrants and Muslims feel it now, and who will be next?
No wasted words in this short book. It is beautifully written and the performance is excellent.
This is creative nonfiction at its best.

The slow destruction of people is so sad.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Juliet
  • 2017-01-06

But remember, it's fiction!

Tight, wonderfully crafted story of life under Stalin and Kruschev. Love the clarity of Barnes' language and his characters.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • ELIZABETH
  • 2016-02-29

Great but ...

Where does The Noise of Time rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

One of the best

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Noise of Time?

Shostakovich's encounter with Stalin

Which scene was your favorite?

The encounter with a beggar in a railway station

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Shostakovich's attempt to avoid joining the Communist Party

Any additional comments?

A fascinating book brilliantly read by Daniel Philpott. Just a slight feeling that the rant against Communism is so remorseless that one ends up by thinking it must have had some good features. The portrait of the central protagonist is totally convincing but was it Shostakovich? Who knows?

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Jeff Lacy
  • 2016-12-15

Exquisitely masterpiece of a novel

A novel about the Russian composer Shostakovich, Julian Barnes has given us a stylistic masterpiece. Barnes is one of the best contemporary literary writers we have. This is is a majestic, interesting story, intelligent and compelling. One of my favorite reads of the year 2016.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Betty B.
  • 2016-05-23

Boring

What happened to Barnes's story telling abilities? Huge fan of his previous works, but not this. Meandering disjointed storyline. Had to make myself finish this one.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Kindle Customer
  • 2016-06-09

overwrought

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

5 of 8 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Shelley
  • 2019-01-11

Read the biography

Interesting history of the time in Russia but too much internal dialogue. I would have preferred to read an actual biography.

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  • sjordi
  • 2018-10-03

Excellent novel shedding light on an amazing life

As a huge Shostakovich fan, it was very interesting to liste to this docu-fiction about an amazing life.
Highly recommended. For anybody enjoying this composer's music, it will shed some light on some obscure slices of life.
For those who don't know him, it still sheds some light about a time period of History hard to believe was actually true for many citizens in the USSR.