Wednesday 25 May 2016


Shostakovich is reflecting on three crucial points in his life, or is that Julian Barnes reflecting on Shostakovich’ reflections? In any case, there is a lot of musing about the role of the artist under a dictatorship.

The atmosphere is dense: He was on his fifth cigarette, and his mind was skittering.

Dictatorship is like destiny: a grand term for something you could do nothing about.

Character was another thing you could do nothing about: The strong cannot help confronting; the less strong cannot help evading.

Life in Soviet Russia is harsh. There are idyllic moments, but an idyll, by definition, only becomes an idyll once it has ended.

And Russians, by definition, as pessimists. Scrub, scrub, scrub, let’s wash away all this old Russianness and paint a shiny new Sovietness on top. But it never worked – the paint began to flake off almost as soon as it was applied. To be Russian was to be pessimistic; to be Soviet was to be optimistic.

Irony is the only way to go. The natural progression of human life is from optimism to pessimism; and a sense of irony helps temper pessimism.

Wise words, but I’m not sure a string of salient thoughts makes a novel.

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