The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

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I first discovered Julian Barnes when I had to read his novel, The Sense of an Ending, during my Master’s degree. I fell in love with his writing style, which is humorous and lyrical, and the way he crafts a basic plot premise into a masterpiece of storytelling. So when I saw The Noise of Time (in a Tesco of all places), I knew that I just had to read it!

The Noise of Time is set in Soviet Russia and follows the composer Dmitri Shostakovich as he struggles to make a name for himself under Stalin’s dictatorship. The novel itself is a fictional biography; Shostakovich was a real composer and suffered from heavy censorship during the Communist rule. Barnes does an excellent job of combining fact with fiction in this novel. Shostakovich’s stark life and his having to live in constant fear act as a catalyst for the novel, and help keep the pace of it running smoothly.

Near the end of the novel, another book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, is mentioned. The novel encompasses one day in Ivan Denisovich’s life as he struggles to survive in a gulag. In The Noise of Time, Shostakovich initially criticises this book as being “…reality varnished over, and the truth ten times worse”. Due to the seeming significance of Solzhenitsyn’s work, I decided to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich for myself. I found it to be harrowing and devastating. Ivan’s will to survive in a freezing and brutal landscape is commendable, and the fact that his experiences are based on real life events that happened to individuals who were imprisoned in gulags really highlights the suffering of these characters. Personally, reading One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich really added to my overall understanding and appreciation of Barnes’ The Noise of Time.

Overall, I really enjoyed Barnes’ latest novel. It was interesting to me both as a wondrous piece of fiction and also as a historically relevant tale. Knowing that a lot of the elements that Barnes discusses in his novel were true, that people in Soviet Russia did genuinely live in fear and that the secret police haunted the Russian population, made this novel all that more terrifying. The historical components helped the novel to leave a big impact on me, which lasted long after I had finished reading this book.

Have you read The Noise of Time, or any other work by Barnes? What did you think of it? Feel free to let me know in the comments section 🙂

4/5 stars

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