Dan Sandman

12: The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

In Biography, Books, Fiction, Non-Fiction on 18/03/2016 at 12:00 pm

The Noise of Time by Julian BarnesThis book is about the famous Russian composer Stravinsky. Writing in fragmented paragraphs that capture the thoughts of the protagonist, Julian Barnes uses the concentrated style of a great essayist to analyse both the private concerns and public life of a troubled individual. With his impeccably clear prose, Barnes sets out to explore how life, art and politics interweave inside the heart and mind of a complex character.

Privately, Stravinsky lives in fear of a dark and sinister force named Power. He remembers how, when his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was banned by the party, he narrowly escaped execution for its supposedly anti-Soviet content. Power would prefer him to compose Soviet music, embracing the folk songs and patriotic tunes of old. And so he conforms by producing scores for propaganda films, of which he both dislikes and disapproves of.

In public life, fearing for his safety, he monotonously orates the speeches written for him by the authorities as propaganda messages. On a Cold War peace mission to America, he resents himself for towing the line in fear of party reprisal. The character that Barnes creates sees himself as a coward, and admits to considering suicide on a number occasions. But in an arguably heroic way, his music continues to express the complexities of his soul. In this enjoyable combination of historical biography and prose fiction, we are given a new insight into the life of a great artist.

An elegantly crafted argument in favour of artistic expression.

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