Julian Barnes seems to be enjoying a Philip Roth (weep), late life surge where each book only seems to increase or sustain in quality. Does The Noise of Time continue this trend? The novel focuses on the politically and artistically troubled life of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Barnes’ truncated novel, or ‘fictional autobiography’ as the Guardian calls it, opens with a foreboding image of Shostakovich waiting the lift; he is on his way for a ‘conversation with power’. His opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District has just been denounced in an editorial by the Stalin regime and Shostakovich must now explain himself.
The fact though that it is described as a fictional autobiography augurs the ensuing debates around the narrative voice. It’s written in omniscient third person, and this third person feels incredibly ‘close’ to Shostakovich, or Barnes’ character of him, yet there remains at the same time a distance as well. We cannot get close enough. Our readers contended with the way Barnes drily accumulates details to build up this environment, and whilst some enjoyed this, others found it frustrating. Doesn’t this go back to that idea of a fictional autobiography though? No matter how much we know, or are led to know, we can never know enough. What is it that Barnes sees in Shostakovich’s life for him to write about him now? Why does he want himself and the reader to get close to Shostakovich’s life? What is this gap in knowing?
These are debates that will of course last longer than the reader’s group discussion. The next book for the reader’s group however will be Keith Stuart’s A Boy Made of Blocks (Little, Brown: 416pp.) on the 21st July. You can also see our future reads until the end of the year below:
August: Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
September: At Swim-Two-Birds – Flann O’Brien
October: The Tango Lesson – Sally Potter
November: Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord – Louis de Bernieres
December: The Hare With the Amber Eyes – Edmund de Waal
For more information please contact Liam on Inkwellreadersgroup@gmail.com