The Noise of Time

9781101947241_p0_v1_s192x300    To grasp Julian Barnes’ stream of consciousness rambling in The Noise of Time, background information on the narrator, famous Russian composer Shostakovich, is necessary, as is listening to his music.

With fleeting references to Dmitry Shostakovich’s youth as a musical prodigy, Barnes focuses the first part of his book on Shostakovich’s early success with his orchestrated Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Listening to the discordant and sharp tones can be both other worldly and agonizing. Despite world-wide acclaim, the opera irritated Stalin and the dictator left in the last act before the opera ends. As a result, Shostakovich was attacked in the Soviet press – usually a harbinger to miserable consequences in Stalin Russia. Fearing imprisonment – Barnes has him waiting every night by his elevator, expecting to be arrested.

Barnes successfully gets inside the composer’s head as he recounts the beginning of the Great Terror, in which many of the composer’s friends and relatives were imprisoned or killed, including his patron Marshal Tukhachevsky. Fearing for himself and his family, Shostakovich withdrew his next symphony and managed to write a conservative and non experimental Fifth Symphony in 1937 – conveniently title by the press as “A Soviet Artist’s Reply to Just Criticism.” Suddenly, he was back in favor. The seesaw continued through World War II in 1948 when a government decree accused him of perversion for his modernist music.

Part Two focuses on Shostakovich’s famous trip to the United States, as an emissary for Soviet Russia. The composer struggles with his inner convictions about music, and Barnes offers the theme of this tortuous tale, reflected in his title:

“Art belongs to those who create it and those who savor it. Art no more belongs to the People and the Party than it once belonged to the aristocracy and the patron. Art is the whisper of history, heard above the noise of time.”
As Shostakovich unconvincingly parroted the the voice of Power in Russia – “what he was supposed to think” – his renunciation of Stravinsky, the composer he revered, seem to affirm the American view that he was only trying to be safe. For years Shostakovich’s wrote works glorifying Soviet life or history, quietly endured a tutor to indoctrinate him in Marxist beliefs, even joining the Communist Party in 1960, under duress. Barnes offers Shostakovich’s inner turmoil as absolution for his betrayal of fellow artists in the name of the government.

Throughout, Barnes identifies the constant struggle of the artist – “When a composer is bitter, or in despair, or pessimistic…{his} music…strong and true and pure {is} enough to drown out the noise of time…” His life continued to be a balancing act between being true to his music and satisfying his government.

Not an easy read, The Noise of Time opens the history of Russian politics and the music of Shostakovich in his fearful and oppressive world.

I found Shostakovich’s banned opera – Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – on the internet, and the library had a CD of his Seventh Symphony, which I played in my car whenever I was out and about.  Together, listening to his music and reading Barnes’ treatise, gave Shostakovich’s life  substance – but I doubt I will ever really understand either.

Related Review:  The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Happy People Read and Drink Coffee

9781602862845_p0_v2_s192x300   Knowing my proclivity for both coffee and reading, a friend recommended Agnes Martin-Lugand’s Happy People Read and Drink Coffee.  I expected a book of affirmation, but the title is the name of a literary cafe in Paris and the story, a delightful romance set in Ireland.

Diane is a young French woman trying to cope with the death of her husband and five year old daughter. A year after their death, she rents a cottage by the sea in Ireland, with an irresistibly attractive Irish photographer as a neighbor.

I read the book in an afternoon, thinking it would end like the Hallmark romance it resembled, but the author surprised me – not at all the happily-ever-after I’d expected but a realistically satisfying one.  If I had noted that Martin-Lugand’s day job is as a clinical psychologist, I might have guessed.

Nevertheless, hope floats for romantics – Martin-Lugand cleverly added the first chapter of the sequel coming in 2017 – Don’t Worry, Life Is Easy – to the back of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee.  

The Quality of Silence

9781101903674_p0_v4_s192x300Rosamund Lupton’s newest suspense thriller – The Quality of Silence – had my undivided attention throughout the day.  Following a mother and her deaf daughter as they drove a ten ton rig in a fast-paced chase through the Arctic cold, I could not put the book down until I finished.  What a ride.

The story focuses on Ruby, a clever ten year old who was born deaf, and her mother, Yasmin, a beautiful astrophysicist, as they search for Matt, father and husband presumed to be dead in a lethal explosion at an Eskimo village.  Not willing to believe he is dead, the mother and daughter hitch a ride along the Dalton Highway in Alaska to the Arctic Circle to find him.  When the driver of the truck has a stroke, Yasmin takes the wheel to drive into a snowstorm and across narrow frozen rivers.  Afraid to leave Ruby to try to communicate with strangers, she takes her along, but when they realize they are being followed, the tension escalates.

Villains come from obvious as well as insidious sources.  Lupton uses the effects of fracking on the environment as the major villain in the story, with  sharp observations about its effects on the ecosystem, and the dire consequences for the environment in the future.  As a ten year old deaf child, Ruby feels excluded from friends at her mainstreamed school as she deals with silent bullies.  And, Yasmin worries that her wildlife documentary-maker husband, Matt, who has been working for months in the Arctic night, has betrayed her with an Inupiaq woman; his last email – “I kissed her because I missed you.”

Lupton cleverly uses Ruby’s young voice as a distraction from the terror, and grounds the story in the family dynamics.  Ruby’s optimism was often a welcome distraction from the nail-biting drama.

All ends well with the bad guys getting their due, thanks to Ruby and her tech savvy.  Once again, Lupton delivers  a satisfying and compelling tale.  All of Lupton’s books offer a thrilling ride, but this one was chilling.

I look forward to the next one.

Reviews of Other Lupton books:  

 

The Waters of Eternal Youth – A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery

9780802124807_p0_v2_s192x300   Guido Brunetti and I are old friends, so Donna Leon’s The Waters of Eternal Youth was a welcome connection.  This twenty-fifth in the mystery series featuring an erudite Italian inspector has me visiting Venice again;  a wealthy little old lady – albeit a countess – is the catalyst for an investigation of her granddaughter’s near-drowning fifteen years earlier.

Manuela, the beautiful fifteen year old who loved horses and feared the water, was saved from drowning when she fell into the canal, but not before losing consciousness for too long and suffering brain damage.  She is now thirty and has the mental capacity of a seven year old.  Her grandmother is convinced her falling into the canal was not an accident, and asks for the case to be reopened.  Although the statute of limitations would preclude any consequences if a villain were found, Brunetti decides to reopen the case, as a favor to his mother-in-law.

The alcoholic who saved Manuela suddenly remembers something, but before Brunetti can question him, the man is brutally killed.  In his clever and quiet way, Brunetti follows the trail that leads to a rapist turned murderer.  After the climax of catching the criminal, Leon offers a satisfying denouement that brought tears to my eyes.

As a long-time resident of Venice, Donna Leon paints a credible picture of the canals and bridges, with an insider’s knowledge of neighborhoods and eating places.  She sprinkles the narrative with comments on historical preservation, housing problems, and the new influx of African migrants.

Like most Italians, Brunetti enjoys a good meal and Paola, his patient wife, is not only an expert Italian cook but also a university professor of literature. Food is often enhanced with references to the classics.  When not eating or investigating, Brunelli ponders – while reading a book in the original Greek, or connecting criminal motives to that of Macbeth or Dante.

Reading another of Guido Brunetti’s crime-solving adventures offers the unique combination of Italian culture with crime mystery.

Review of another Donna Leon MysteryBy Its Cover

 

Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place

When one of my favorite place for books recommended Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place, I decided to order it.  First, the library system, but the book must be too new since it has not caught the attention of the ordering queen. A book by the same title was in the system – by Kate Racculia published in 2010.

Next, to iBook – imagine my surprise to learn a third book has the same title: one by Anna Winger  published in 2009.  Last on the list is Maggie O’Farrell.  Irrelevant, but a song released in 1983 also has the name as well as a movie with Sean Penn in 2011.  Popular title.

Wondering what such a title could predict?

Winger’s debut novel tells of two people who find each other when they least expect it in a city haunted by history.  Racculia involves four eclectic boarders, Mona and her daughter, who find their quiet life upended by the arrival of a widower in the middle of a nervous breakdown.   O’Farrell’s book focuses on a marriage.

Unknown-2  Maggie O’Farrell is one of my favorite writers.  I found her with The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, then sought out her Instructions for a Heatwave, and The Hand That First Held Mine (see my reviews below).

Now I have the sample of her latest book on my iPhone – a reminder to try the library again, but if it doesn’t appear when I’ve finished my latest library stack, I may have to just  just download it.  I have time; the book is due to be published in the United State on July 19th.

Have you read any of O’Farrell’s books?

Related Reviews: