The Noise of Time | Penguin Random House Canada

The Noise of Time

A Novel

Publisher: Vintage Canada
A masterful novel dedicated to the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, from the bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending.

The book begins in 1936, with Dmitri Shostakovich petrified at the age of thirty and fearing for his livelihood and even his life. His opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District has just been denounced in Pravda in an article that certainly reflects the opinion of Joseph Stalin himself. Every night he waits on the landing outside his apartment, expecting NKVD agents to come and whisk him away. Shostakovich reflects on not only his predicament but also his own personal history, his parents and his various women and wives and his children, and all who are still alive themselves hang in the balance of his fate.
     When the interrogation he fears does eventually arrive, a stroke of luck prevents him from becoming a casualty of the Great Terror that claims so many of his friends and contemporaries--"chips that had flown while the wood was being chopped." Still, the spectre of the government hovers over him for several further decades, forcing him to constantly weigh the merits of appeasing those in power against the integrity of his music. Barnes elegantly guides us through subsequent stages of Shostakovich's life, from being ground into the dirt under the thumb of despotism to being made to serve as a figurehead of Soviet values at a cultural conference in New York, and finally being forced into joining the Party. The trajectory of his career illuminates the evolution of the Soviet Union, with Nikita Khrushchev assuming its leadership, this providing no great joy to Shostakovich.
The Noise of Time is both a heartbreaking account of a relentlessly fascinating man's experience and a brilliant meditation on the meaning of art and its place in society.


Longlisted for the 2017 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction
Longlisted for the 2017 Yasnaya Polyana Literary Award



“Magnificent . . . . Novels about artistic achievement rarely do justice to their subjects. . . . The Noise of Time is that rarity. It is a novel of tremendous grace and power, giving voice to the complex and troubled man whose music outlasted the state that sought to silence him.” —Anthony Marra, Publishers Weekly

“A great novel, Barnes's masterpiece—the particular and intimate details of the life under consideration beget questions of universal significance; the operation of power upon art, the limits of courage and endurance, the sometimes intolerable demands of personal integrity and conscience. This novel, like [The Sense of an Ending], gives us the breath of a whole life within the pages of a slim book.” —Alex Preston, The Guardian

The Noise of Time tells the story of Dmitri Shostakovich, the Russian composer both feted and condemned by the Soviet state during his lifetime; but it does so not in aridly 'truthful' fashion, but in full, delighted knowledge of how little use facts are in determining the essence of human experience, let alone its intersection with history and politics. . . . [A] complex meditation on the power, limitations and likely endurance of art.” —Alex Clark, Observer

“Barnes brilliantly captures the composer’s conflicted state of mind, which culminates in the chilling realization that ‘death was preferable to endless terror.’ . . . Packs an extraordinary emotional punch.” —Sebastian Shakespeare, Tatler

“[Barnes is] a master of the narrative sidestep. . . . Not just a novel about music, but something more like a musical novel. . . . The story itself is structured in three parts that come together like a broken chord.  It is a simple but brilliant device, and one that goes right to the heart of this novel.” —Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Times

“A novel of deceptive slenderness. . . . Barnes has reinvented himself once again.” —Duncan White, Daily Telegraph

“The meticulous research done by the author unmasks the pervading despair and gloom, and transports the reader to the dark days. . . . [A] wonderfully-crafted book.” —Deccan Herald 

“Like [Barnes’s] Booker Prize-winning The Sense of an Ending (2011), The Noise of Time is another brilliant thought-provoker. . . . [E]legantly structured. . . . [The Noise of Time] is filled with many . . . penetrating, quotable lines. . . . [A] stirring novel.” —NPR

“[The Noise of Time] is beautifully written. There is a wonderful rhythm to the prose—long passages are broken up by staccato bursts of single sentences—and Mr. Barnes writes with a crystalline clarity.” —Christopher Carroll, The Wall Street Journal
“Barnes does wonderful work on the key scenes. . . . [The Noise of Time is] a powerful portrait.” —Jeremy Denk, The New York Times Book Review
“Julian Barnes’s latest novel opens with a scene of crystalline virtuosity. . . . In the reading, [Barnes’s] stylistic shift feels like a feat of magic. . . . In his impressionistic portrait of Shostakovich, the man and the artist, Barnes balances sympathy with a tough-minded clarity, the more potent for being presented via the composer’s own point of view.” —The Miami Herald
“[The Noise of Time is] deeply engaging. . . . [A] cannily episodic story. . . . The tension between revolutionary discipline and artistic freedom might sound like a familiar theme, yet I can’t recall any other recent book which offers such a prismatic perspective on the matter. . . . Barnes’s [narrative is] timely and arresting. . . . If Barnes’s moving, Booker Prize-winning novel, The Sense of an Ending, which similarly charted the course of a life in less than two hundred pages, was a book of the heart, [The Noise of Time] is very much of the head. But it is a brilliant head, which leads us to places only a handful of novelists have the skill and the courage to go.” —The Boston Globe

“[The Noise of Time is] outstanding. . . . There is a wonderful musicality to this compact and powerful novel. . . . [Barnes’s] Shostakovich is a man of great moral complexity who, trapped between passion and politics, finds himself servant to both.” —Stephen Finucan, Toronto Star 

“[B]arnes’s writing is elegant, his curiosity boundless, and his intellect formidable. . . . His clean, undecorated prose invites our trust. He doesn’t leave distracting footprints on the page because he cares more for his subject than for himself, more for clarity than crafty prose that asks to be admired for its craftiness. He lets his subject speak, leaving his readers with a sense of immediacy and discovery.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

“The Noise of Time is a harrowing, swift novel.” —Literary Hub

“I’ve never seen a book that gets into the mind of an artist as persuasively as The Noise of Time. . . . [The Noise of Time] expands the reach of biography. . . . The pleasures of [The Noise of Time]—including listening along with the subject’s career—are great, and the themes—life under tyranny and Shostakovich’s agony of cowardice—are profound. . . . The ultimate brilliance of Barnes’s work is that it shows us, through Shostakovich’s mind, how a person begins in his later years to see his life as an expression of key themes.” —Citizen-Times