Julian Barnes has always been willing to combine fact and fiction, and the main character of his first novel since winning the 2011 Booker Prize is the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

The Noise of TIme
The book provides vivid retellings of Shostakovich’s many run-ins with the Soviet authorities, after which he caved into official pressure.

Neither Barnes nor Shostakovich himself ever sees these compromises as anything other than—at the very least—unheroic. Yet, what choice did the man have?

Had he been braver, he would have endangered not only his own life but also those of his family and friends.   

As the basis of a short novel, this material might sound a little obscure. In Barnes’s skilful hands, the result is both moving and often genuinely tense—as well as richly informative for those of us a bit shaky on our Soviet composers. Meanwhile, some wider themes emerge too.

For one thing, aren’t we all shaped more than we like to think by the times and places we live in? And what about the difficulties we all have (let’s face it) in standing up for our principles? 

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