Should fiction be timeless? It was a debate that became especially heated in the 1980s, as a younger generation of writers, raised on corporate advertising and the burgeoning brand-ification of America, attempted to portray the daily consumption of pop culture and corporate sponsorship that was now inescapable. Older writers (who were often the teachers of the younger generation’s MFA workshops) found this tic annoying, and believed writers should excise any references that would “date” their fiction.
In part, The Noise of Time offers itself as a cubist biography in the manner of Flaubert’s Parrot, cycling and recycling choice vignettes through memory and reflection as well as real time, to create an intimately illuminating montage of Shostakovich’s life. It is immediately engaging at this level. Barnes surrounds his anguished central figure with supporting characters drawn from the fascinatingly coupled worlds of music and politics.
When I was a teenager I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Instead of taking this beautiful book as a path to something useful, like a career in theoretical physics, I mainly used it as an excuse not to tidy my room. And I don’t mean I sat there screaming “Mum! Not now, I’m reading a book!”: if I understood it correctly, A Brief History of Time said that tidying my room would (in an absurdly, ridiculously tiny way) hasten the end of the universe. Surely, I argued, a tidy room wasn’t worth that…
That the argument was asinine should go without saying, but an argument can be asinine and still technically correct.
A 116-year-old independent bookstore in Seattle is feeling the threat from Amazon. But this time the risk comes not from the online behemoth – but the physical bookstore that the company opened just two months ago.