Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Noise of Time review – Julian Barnes’s masterpiece

The Noise of Time review – Julian Barnes’s masterpiece

Shostakovich’s battle with his conscience is explored in a magnificent fictionalised retelling of the composer’s life under Stalin

Alex Preston
Sunday 17 January 2016 07.00 GMT

ulian Barnes’s last novel, the Man Booker-winning The Sense of an Ending (2011), engaged in subtle and sustained dialogue with the book whose title it pilfered, Frank Kermode’s brilliant 1967 work of narrative theory, also called The Sense of an Ending. Barnes’s latest, The Noise of Time, borrows its title from Osip Mandelstam’s memoirs, and again the earlier work casts interesting light upon Barnes’s project. Mandlestam was one of Stalin’s most outspoken critics, his fate sealed with the words of his 1933 Stalin Epigram. He was exiled in the Great Terror and died in a Vladivostok transit camp in 1938. The subject of The Noise in Time is not the brave, doomed Mandelstam, though, but a rarer genius, one whose art continued to flourish despite the oppressive attentions of the Soviet authorities: Dmitri Shostakovich.

julian barnes
Photo by Alan Edwards
Poster by T.A.

The Noise of Time initially appears to be the latest addition to a hybrid literary form with which we are increasingly familiar – the fictional biography. Recent examples range from Colm Tóibin’s The Master (which presented a repressed and unhappy Henry James) to Nuala O’Connor’s excellent Miss Emily (which gave us a wilful and tormented Emily Dickinson). As with all great novels, though – and make no mistake, this is 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 its predecessor, gives us the breadth of a whole life within the pages of a slim book, written in an intimately close third person. The reader visits the composer during three critical moments in his life, the decades between skipped over with extraordinary panache, a bravura performance of Italo Calvino’s maxim that “time takes no time in a story”. We first meet Shostakovich as “a man standing by a lift, at his feet a small case containing cigarettes, underwear and tooth powder; standing there and waiting to be taken away”. A damning Pravda editorial, probably penned by Stalin, has denounced the composer’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District as “non-political and confusing” because it “tickled the perverted taste of the bourgeois with its fidgety, neurotic music”. Shostakovich waits for his first “Conversation with Power” – interrogation by the NKVD – and, presumably, exile or worse.

Our next encounter with Shostakovich is after the war, on a propaganda tour of the US. His visit is prompted by his second “Conversation with Power”, this time a telephone call from Stalin himself that recalls a similar call in Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate (a novel that echoes within The Noise of Time). Restored to the party’s good books by the success of his patriotic “Leningrad” Symphony, Shostakovich is delivering a series of speeches denouncing his own work and, particularly, that of Stravinsky, whom he likes and admires. He reads his speech in a “muttered monotone”, hoping the words will be taken for what they are – dictations from the state. In the audience, though, is Nicolas Nabokov (Vladimir’s cousin and in the pay of the CIA), who forces Shostakovich to reiterate his endorsement of the views of Zhdanov, the man “who had persecuted him since 1936, who had banned him and derided him and threatened him, who had compared his music to that of a road drill and a mobile gas chamber”. It is a moment of abject, torturous humiliation for the composer.

The third section of the novel gives us an elderly Shostakovich, sitting in the back of a chauffeur-driven car, made bitter by the inexhaustible demands of the party, even now that Stalin’s terror has given way to the reign of “Nikita the Corncob”. Shostakovich describes himself as a hunchback, “morally, spiritually”, a man shattered in body and spirit: “He could not live with himself. It was just a phrase, but an exact one. Under the pressure of Power, the self cracks and splits.” We witness his “final, most ruinous Conversation with Power”, when the oleaginous functionary Pospelov forces him to join the party and take up a position entirely within the fold, as chairman of the Russian Federation Union of Composers. Shostakovich succinctly diagnoses his own greatest fault: “He had lived too long.”

Around halfway through the novel there is a passage that operates as a kind of appeal to the reader, and also a statement about what kind of book this is: “There were those who understood a little better, who supported you, and yet at the same time were disappointed in you. Who did not grasp the one simple fact about the Soviet Union: that it was impossible to tell the truth here and live. Who imagined they knew how Power operated and wanted you to fight it as they believed they would do in your position. In other words, they wanted your blood.” Here we sense the ghost of Osip Mandelstam, providing a heroic vision of what might have been for Shostakovich – an early death, lauded by some, forgotten by most. Instead, we get the old man, churning out bombastic, grandiloquent public music and composing his masterpieces – his late string quartets – in private, all the while knowing that “music is not like Chinese eggs: it does not improve by being kept underground for years and years”.

Throughout The Noise of Time, I kept thinking of JM Coetzee (not a writer I’d have associated Barnes with before). Most obviously Coetzee’s underrated fictional biography of Dostoevsky, The Master of Petersburg, but more often and more interestingly, Disgrace. In that novel, the hero, David Lurie, is offered an easy way out of a tawdry fix at the beginning of the book; instead, driven by a stubborn sense of personal integrity, he subjects himself to untold privations until the novel’s extraordinary, quasi-religious ending.

Shostakovich, like Lurie, understands that his torments have ancient roots: “He knew his Bible well. So he was familiar with the notion of sin; also with its public mechanism. The offence, the priest’s judgment on the matter, the act of contrition, the forgiveness. Though there were occasions when the sin was too great and not even a priest could forgive it.” Every morning, in lieu of a prayer, he recites to himself a poem by Evtushenko – “But time has a way of demonstrating / The most stubborn are the most intelligent… I shall therefore pursue my career / By trying not to pursue one.”

The composer’s decline into ill health, the withering of his spirit, his hope that “death would liberate his music… from his life” – Barnes presents Shostakovich’s final downward spiral with a kind of ruthless inevitability (and inevitability is, as Susan Snyder says, the signal note of tragedy). Alexei Tolstoy wrote in Pravda of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony: “Here the personality submerges itself in the great epoch that surrounds it, and begins to resonate with the epoch.” Barnes has achieved a similar feat with a period of history, and a place, that despite their remoteness, are rendered in exquisite, intimate detail. He has given us a novel that is powerfully affecting, a condensed masterpiece that traces the lifelong battle of one man’s conscience, one man’s art, with the insupportable exigencies of totalitarianism.

Julian Barnes / The Noise of Time / Reviews

Book reviews roundup: The Noise of Time; The Vanishing Man; But You Did Not Come Back

What the critics though of The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, The Vanishing Man by Laura Cumming and But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens

Friday 22 January 2016 17.59 GMT

The Noise of Time, a fictionalised account of Dmitri Shostokovich’s survival in Soviet Russia, is Julian Barnes’s first novel since 2011’s Booker-winning The Sense of an Ending. It met with near universal praise. “Make no mistake, this is Barnes’s masterpiece,” enthused Alex Preston in the Observer. “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.” “It seems like the best work of Amis, McEwan and Rushdie is behind them. Barnes, by contrast, still has plenty left in the tank,” agreed Duncan White in the Daily Telegraph. All his books “have been about the way we tell the stories of human lives, whether our own or other people’s … [here] Shostakovich is forced to reconcile his own fragmented memories of his life with the story the state wants to tell about him.” “What draws the reader’s attention is not what Shostakovich says about himself,” wrote Robert Douglas-Fairhurst in the Times. “It is what he fails to say. As so often in his fiction, Barnes turns out to be a master of the moments when words crumble away into silence” – a narrative tactic “perfectly attuned to writing about music, an art form in which the rests are just as important as the notes.” Arifa Akbar in the Independent was a rare dissenting voice, finding the novel inferior to The Sense of an Ending. Again, it’s a story “of a man auditing his life’s right- or wrong-turnings”: but too often it “bears the hint of a patronising history lesson”.

Laura Cumming’s “superb and original” The Vanishing Man interweaves the stories of Velázquez, court painter in Madrid in the 17th century, and John Snare, a Victorian bookseller who believed he’d found a lost painting by the great artist, and whose life was ruined as a result. “Sometimes, dual biographies can be a contrivance, but here the two stories enhance each other,” wrote Bee Wilson in the Sunday Times. “Like Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch, this is about the particular forms of obsession that only art can generate.” “Cumming sides with Snare’s petit bourgeois autodidacticism against the snooty expertise of the art establishment,” found Jonathan Beckerman in the Sunday Times, but the result is “two half-books that don’t combine to make a whole”. Like several critics, Craig Brown in the Mail on Sunday agreed that Snare’s story was the less interesting one – “a shaggy-dog tale leading to nowhere”. “Cumming’s real allegiance is to Velázquez, a man about whose private life and thoughts almost nothing is known,” explained Michael Prodger in the Evening Standard. “In her deep looking and restraint, she explains just why Velazquez is inimitable and one of the greatest artists of all.”
“You might come back,” 16-year-old Marceline Loridan-Ivens’s father told her before they were put on a train to Auschwitz-Birkenau, “because you’re young, but I will not come back.” Loriden-Ivens is now 87 and living in Paris; But You Did Not Come Back, her slim memoir of the Holocaust and its after effects, is written as a love letter to the father whose prophecy came true. It’s “devastating”, wrote Erica Wagner in the New Statesman: “It can be read at a sitting; and then asks to be read again.” The “letter of a lifetime,” agreed Helen Davies in the Sunday Times. “It is profound, compelling, effortless, searing. Almost every sentence is a distillation of the human capacity for suffering and survival.” Loridan-Ivens has reached “a bleak conclusion”, found Robbie Millen in the Times: that “antisemitism is an eternal given”. Her own defiance, amid the suicide of her siblings, has been to live. “Just read it.”

Donald Trump / This much I know / I think I like Prince Harry

Donald Trump_Photograph by Richard Drew

This much I know: Donald Trump

"I think I like Prince Harry"

The business magnate, 66, on never going bankrupt and his spats with Obama – and Alex Salmond

People wanted me very badly to run for president at this year's elections. I was the leader in the polls, but I'm friendly with Romney and I have businesses to take care of. The Apprentice enters its 13th season this year. I will continue to provide a great many jobs, which is one thing my country needs. The other is a leader who knows business, and that is Romney.
I have an ongoing spat with Obama – obviously. I don't think he's doing a good job with the economy. There's nothing personal. We have our little ins and outs and of course there was his recent speech about me [Obama was very funny about Trump at the Washington State Dinner]. That was nice. I mean, it was good. I laughed.
I like to think big and that results in large, loud, spectacular things: casinos, hotels, golf resorts. I've loved sky scrapers since I built them with blocks as a kid. But there is a common denominator: elegance. A highly respected critic for theNew York Times said I was "the only beauty freak at large in NYC real estate development". He called the Trump World Tower "a handsome hunk", which it is.

Donald Trump

There's a tremendous pressure in business and few people can handle it. I've seen a lot of people fail and I can only think that [the ability to cope] is something you have within, a natural ingredient you're born with.
My father had a four-step formula for success, which accounts for my reputation for getting things done: "Get in, get it done, get it done right, get out."
I think I like Prince Harry. He's young and rebellious and I don't think people should hold that against him. I think the security didn't do a good job, frankly.
I never went bankrupt. I fought my way through a bad situation [Trump was $900m in the red in the early 90s] and now my company is worth more than $8bn, bigger and stronger than it's ever been. There's good debt and bad debt; it can be a form of leverage if you know how to work it.
Donald Trump by Debbie Kyser

To me, religion is comprehensive. It makes you think about the wider picture. My faith [Trump is Presbyterian] keeps me humble, while striving for great things.
My parents had a good model for marriage. They were together 61 years. My mother was from Stornoway but they met on holiday in New York and it was very romantic.
I support the person in politics, not the party. You've got to go for the champion, not the team..
The problem with Alex Salmond is that he wants to destroy Scotland with his ridiculous windmills that's he's littering the countryside with. I've just opened a golf resort in Aberdeen so I let him know. But everybody knows he's a disaster.

Carlos Santana  / ‘You can get high on what’s within you’
Georgia May Jagger / ‘With modelling, sometimes you’re punky, other times girly and sweet’
Tom Jones  / I might have become a miner like my father 
Tom Jones / ‘Fame allows you to release things that were already in you. It’s like drink in that respect’

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tom Jones / This much I know / ‘Fame allows you to release things that were already in you. It’s like drink in that respect’

Tom Jones

Tom Jones: ‘Fame allows you to release things that were already in you. It’s like drink in that respect’

‘I used to run six miles a day, but now when I’m in London I don dark glasses and an anorak with a hoodie, and walk’: Tom Jones

This much I know

The singer, 75, on a lasting marriage, receiving contradictory advice from Elvis and Sinatra, and dyeing his hair

Angela Wintle
Saturday 24 October 2015 14.00 BST

My earliest memory is watching my mother hurrying to prepare tea and distractedly talking to my sister and me while looking out for my father. If the cloth wasn’t on the table when he arrived home from the colliery, it was failure on an epic scale as far as she was concerned.
My real name is Thomas Jones Woodward. My former manager, Gordon Mills, gave me the name Tom Jones, inspired by the 1963 movie with Albert Finney. It’s based on an 18th-century novel by Henry Fielding, though I’ve never read it.
I sensed very quickly that I wouldn’t find fame a burden. As someone who has looked at it from both sides, being famous is preferable to the alternative.
I don’t buy this “fame changes people” argument. Fame allows you to release things that were already in you, that’s all. Character will out. It’s a bit like drink in that respect.
The BBC received complaints when I sang on Blue Peter and Crackerjack in the 1960s. One viewer wrote: “I don’t want that man moving like that in front of my young family. And at teatime, too.” Apologies to all concerned.
I’ve had my career in reverse. Most people travel from critical acclaim to cabaret; I seem to have travelled from cabaret to critical acclaim.
Contracting tuberculosis at age 12 was difficult. But in a weird way it also made me feel special. I was quarantined at home for two years, but I knew that people were thinking about me and asking: “How’s Tommy?”
Frank Sinatra thought I should sing standards. “That’s what I want to hear from you,” he said. Meanwhile I had Elvis saying: “Don’t go there. Not standards. Leave that to Sinatra.” I was in the middle. I tried not to be too dizzied by it all.

Tom Jones
Photograph by Harry Borden

I’ve never had the feeling that I have with my wife Linda with anyone else. When I met her I wanted to hold her for as long and often as possible. I don’t think you do find that more than once. Our marriage has lasted because we have the same childhood memories and Welsh sense of humour, which is slightly sarcastic – no bullshit.
I gave up dyeing my hair in 2009. I’d been getting it blacked up for years, but I wasn’t fooling anyone. Don’t get me wrong, though: if I didn’t think the grey looked better, I’d still be dyeing it.
I walk to relax. I used to run six miles a day, but my right knee started giving me trouble. So now when I’m in London I don dark glasses and an anorak with a hoodie, and walk. It doesn’t always work. I was crossing Lambeth Bridge recently when this van driver yelled: “Do you want a lift, Tom?”
I dread the time, if it ever comes, when I won’t be able to sing. Thankfully I’m 75 and still singing well. My voice is deeper, but I sing with more sensitivity, wisdom and experience.
Receiving a medal from my country [his knighthood in 2006] was above and beyond anything I could have imagined. Years later, the Queen stood right in front of me during the finale for the Diamond Jubilee Concert. There we were, on a stage rammed with international pop stars, with an audience of hundreds of thousands of flag wavers disappearing to the horizon, and she turned to me and said: “It’s cold, isn’t it?”
I’m rarely in bed before 4am. Sleep until midday, rise for lunch. I’m a nocturnal creature, really.
There’s just one way I’d like to be remembered: as a hell of a singer.

Over the Top and Back: the Autobiography by Toms Jones is published by Michael Joseph at £20. His new album, Long Lost Suitcase, is released on Virgin/EMI

Carlos Santana  / ‘You can get high on what’s within you’
Georgia May Jagger / ‘With modelling, sometimes you’re punky, other times girly and sweet’
Tom Jones  / I might have become a miner like my father 
Tom Jones / ‘Fame allows you to release things that were already in you. It’s like drink in that respect’

Tom Jones / This much I know / I might have become a miner like my father

Tom Jones

This much I know

I might have become a miner like my father

Tom Jones, singer, 66, London

Interview by Barbara Ellen
Sunday 22 October 2006 23.57 BST

I've always had the voice, I've always sung, ever since I was small - in school, in chapel, to the radio. I don't really know life without it.
I lived in Wales for the first 24 years of my life and it stood me in good stead, gave me values. But that's also a lot to do with your upbringing. It could be working-class, it could be middle-class, but you've got to have love and attention, and I did, I was lucky.
I might have become a miner like my father, but I had tuberculosis when I was 12. I couldn't go out between the ages of 12 and 14. It was a big lesson - not to take life for granted. I said to myself, when I get out of this bed, I'll never complain about anything ever again. But I do.

Jones duetting with Janis Joplin in the television program This Is Tom Jones in 1969

I'm never scared to try new things. When you do something and the kids dig it, it's great. It's not about trying to be young, or something you're not, because they always see through that.
You need to have a bit of an ego in this business.
When you first get successful you spend a bit - big house, cars, jewellery, all the trappings.
But after a while you think, how many watches can one man have?
I've been misquoted many times about women. I'd be asked about growing up and I'd say that my father went to work, and my mother was a home-maker. Then it was, 'Tom Jones thinks men should work and women should look after the house.' But I didn't say that.
Elvis was an icon. For him to tell me he liked my voice meant a lot. It was the same when Frank Sinatra told me he loved the way I sang.

I was never interested in drugs. I like to have a drink because I like the things that go with it - pubs, restaurants, having dinner. It's not just sitting in the corner with a bottle. That's how drug-taking seems to be: people going off on their own to the toilet to do it.
Getting a knighthood was fantastic. You look into yourself - am I worthy of this? I find I don't swear as much as I used to.

When you do shows you feel as if you're pouring yourself into the audience, and when they applaud it's as if they're saying, 'We know, we get it.' It's so reassuring.

I don't like bad behaviour just because you're rich or famous. I remember early on I had to get there really early for my TV show and I was moaning away. When I arrived there was this building site, and this kid was going up a ladder carrying a hod, which is what I used to do. And he said, 'Hey Tommy, want to give me a hand with this?' I thought, Jesus Christ, I'm moaning, but he's going to be up and down that ladder all day.'
Even when I was younger I didn't look in mirrors much. I've got a good bone structure and I try to keep myself in shape, but I'm not vain.

If you're singing love songs, sexy songs, and the feelings aren't coming across, then there's something wrong. But if you're always doing it with a wink, that can catch up with you.
I'm not looking forward to retiring. The biggest fear for any performer is that it will be taken away from you. It's so much part of you, a physical thing, it's scary to think one day it won't be there any more. If I'm not able to sing, I won't know what to do.
There is no alternative to ageing - just death. The only reason I would like to be young is that you've got longer to live. But it's a great feeling to have grandchildren.

Carlos Santana  / ‘You can get high on what’s within you’
Georgia May Jagger / ‘With modelling, sometimes you’re punky, other times girly and sweet’
Tom Jones  / I might have become a miner like my father 
Tom Jones / ‘Fame allows you to release things that were already in you. It’s like drink in that respect’

Friday, July 29, 2016

Tom Jones / We need to drop Delilah song for being too violent

Tom Jones

Tom Jones

We need to drop Delilah song for being too violent, says singer

Sir Tom Jones' classic and Welsh rugby anthem Delilah has been labelled inappropriate for rugby crowds over claims it promotes domestic violence.
Former Plaid Cymru president and folk singer Dafydd Iwan said the iconic ballad should be abandoned for its violent lyrics.
He said the song tends to "trivialise the idea of murdering a woman".
The Welsh Rugby Union disagrees though, comparing the lyrics to Shakespeare plays such as Romeo and Juliet.

Mr Iwan said: "It is a song about murder and it does tend to trivialise the idea of murdering a woman.
"It's a pity these words now have been elevated to the status of a secondary national anthem. I think we should rummage around for another song instead of Delilah."
Sir Tom said he was proud the song was used at rugby matches and said the song's subject matter simply reflected "something that happens in life".


Too violent?

The lyrics in question are: "At break of day when that man drove away, I was waiting.
"I cross the street to her house and she opened the door.
"She stood there laughing... I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more."


A Welsh Rugby Union spokesperson said: "Within rugby, Delilah has gained prominence through its musicality rather than because of its lyrics.
"There is, however, plenty of precedent in art and literature, prominently in Shakespearean tragedies for instance, for negative aspects of life to be portrayed.
"The Welsh Rugby Union condemns violence against women and has taken a lead role in police campaigns to highlight and combat the issue."