The focus of The Noise of Time, inevitably and rightly, is on the compromises which Shostakovich was forced, and forces himself, to make in order to survive and this theme is made manifest on the very first page. He is standing by a lift in a state of terror, waiting to be taken by the secret police after Stalin had walked out of a performance of Lady MacBeth of Mtsensk: ‘All he knew was that this was the worst time’.
Or maybe not, because it is one of three crisis points – ‘conversations with Power' - which allow Barnes to create a series of monologues within the historical context, and despite the echo of Dickens in the opening line, it is to his great love Flaubert that Barnes nods in this desperately sad story of a man coming to terms with his betrayal of himself.
The inversion of Marx’s famous dictum may be glib, but it is true. ‘History repeats itself; the first time as a farce; the second time as a tragedy’.
And so to the autumn, when it gets later earlier and my thriller and detective story writers invariably publish their latest novels. This year, Lee Child, Ian Rankin and Michael Connolly all had new books out on the same day and all, to a greater or lesser extent, disappointed. The Harry Bosch, The Other Side of Goodbye was probably the best; the new Jack Reacher, Night School, by some measure the worst, leaving the new Rebus, Rather Be The Devil, somewhere in the middle. Not bad, but, well, you know, haven’t we been here before?
The eponymous protagonist of Darke is an extraordinary creation and the writing intelligent and intellectual, full of allusions and half-familiar references which haunt the reader as much as the narrative. It is one of the best novels I have read for many a year – but that’s all I have to say for the moment, because it will not be published until next year. But I promise you it will be worth the wait.
Today from the everysmith vaults: Just created a lunchtime playlist for Wilde's. Dylan, Dead, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Ry Cooder, Miles Davis, Yo la Tengo and loads more. It's great!