Julian Barnes – The noise of time
Book Reviews / February 3, 2016

A coward’s life The noise of time Julian Barnes, Jonathan Cape, January 2016 Concluding a recent talk about life-writing, Julian Barnes wryly asked for a disclaimer to be placed into any future biographies of him: “This is not how I was; this is what I am like when I’m being biographed”. Of course, it is difficult enough capturing the ‘truth’ about a subject in a straight biography; Barnes’s fictional account of Shostakovich’s life asks us to believe, at least for a short while, that we are reading is the true, internal monologue of Dmitri Dmitrievich Shostakovich. In this it succeeds marvellously. The novel’s structure is simple: a prologue and three chapters, each recounting an episode of the subject’s life. In the first Shostakovich believes he is about to be purged for his newly unpopular music; in the second he is returning from a propaganda tour of the US; the third seems him settling into respectable old age, plagued by the many moral compromises he has had to make. Throughout all this, Shostakovich—who in spite of his many failings is essentially a likeable character—maintains an attitude of innocent bafflement at his relationship with the state, bemoaning for example that he “had…