Not exactly a biography but a fantasia on the life of Dmitri Shostakovich. Shostakovich wanted to be left alone, did not want to obey, to be shot, or to be sent to prison. It described how Power was watching him all the time, recording his speeches, he became an official musician, but all he wanted to do was to compose the music he heard all around him, in every day things, glasses clinking, light bulbs, trains, etc. You liked the way Julian Barnes put each chapter into the context of Shostakovich’s works which made you listen to the pieces with a different perspective.
A melancholic, fearful and depressed person, to whom exile was not an option, but despite the fact that ‘Power’ wanted to steal his soul, he actually had a sense of humour, or was it irony?, You thought it ironic that “Power’ did not notice if a piece of music had been written against them (Him). It is a story of fear, the film Burnt by the Sun,1994 film by Russian director and screenwriter Nikita Mikhalkov and Azerbaijani screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov, was likened to the theme of Julian Barnes book. Stalin’s dictatorship was dreadful and it was not possible to avoid moral corruption. (Quoted…We have two kinds of composers those alive and scared and those who are dead). You thought his character was feeble and weak amongst other things. You said ‘a dislikeable man who ended his life in moral decay.’ You questioned how it was possible to have a political content in music. Who in fact owns artwork, and who does music belong to, were questions you raised. You mentioned that the novels simplistic portrayal of communism did not mean that the whole system was bad!!!
The book was enjoyed, but you thought Julian Barnes was keeping us at arms length, not getting emotionally involved (me, until I started reading my notes and listening to Shostakovich, when I became angry and depressed – oh dear)….
An interesting study, cowardice, courage and a conversation with himself. You felt he had no choice but to make a ‘deal with the devil’.
You were frustrated that the secondary characters were not explained and found the Russian names somewhat confusing. Not all of you, of course, are interested in biographies as a ‘good read’ or by books about composers, but others were happy to know the ‘story’, as dramatic and tragic as it seemed to be.
We couldn’t escape the fact that most of us felt that Julian Barnes writes a good novel!!!
Hope the next choice is more cheerful….!!!