What is it about the lives of artists that fascinates us so much? Perhaps it’s the urge to know more about where the books, paintings, movies and music come from, the difficulty of figuring out, without more information, how much of what they create is from their actual lives and how much from their imaginations. Perhaps it’s just that genius, in whatever form, seems so strange and so unusual that we just want to try to understand it better. If you’re one of those people who find artists fascinating, you’re in luck, because we have some new and fascinating novels about artists here at the Field Library, waiting for you.
Dmitri Shostakovich, the famous Soviet composer, is the star and focus of Julian Barnes’ new book, The Noise of Time. Shostakovich, 30 years old in 1936 when the book starts, is in big trouble. Somehow he has come to the attention of Joseph Stalin, who has denounced Shostakovich’s latest opera. In the Stalinist Soviet Union, such a denunciation could mean the composer is exiled to Siberia, his work is banned and destroyed, or even that he is killed. Shostakovich is worried about his future, of course, but also about the people he cares about. He manages to escape disaster this time, but his life thereafter is forever warped by the shadow of Stalinism and the state Stalin created. The Noise of Time doesn’t just illuminate Shostakovich’s life and art, but also shines a light on the evolution of the Soviet Union during this tumultuous period as well. Julian Barnes’ last book, The Sense of an Ending, won the Man Booker prize, so this is a historical novel worth diving into.
Samuel Beckett is known for his absurdist plays, like Waiting for Godot, but as the book, A Country Road, a Tree, by Jo Baker, reveals, there was much more to him than merely a gifted writer. Set during World War II, the book follows Beckett (unnamed in the book) from his native, and neutral, Ireland to Paris, where he finds himself in the heart of Europe’s fight for survival. Here he meets James Joyce and other literary giants; he meets the French woman who will be the love of his life and his companion for the rest of his life; he joins the French Resistance in secret and narrowly escapes from the Gestapo. He leaves occupied Paris for the countryside and then, after liberation, tries to rebuild his life in the rubble left by the war. Even if you’ve never seen one of Beckett’s plays, you’ll find his life fascinating, and leave it to Jo Baker, whose last book, Longbourn, looked at the other side of Pride and Prejudice, to bring the past to vivid life.