The brilliant new novel from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending
"Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question."
First love has lifelong consequences, but Paul doesn’t know anything about that at nineteen. At nineteen, he’s proud of the fact his relationship flies in the face of social convention. As he grows older, the demands placed on Paul by love become far greater than he could possibly have foreseen.
Tender and wise, The Only Story is a deeply moving novel by one of fiction’s greatest mappers of the human heart.
Why Our Staff Love The Only Story:
How to convey the brilliance of this book?
I could start by saying that The Only Story is a wonderful and achingly beautiful book about the ephemeral nature of love, and the slipperiness of memory and judgement.
Paul, the narrator with an admittedly unreliable recall, looks back over the last 50 years of his life and reflects on an affair he had as a student with the middle-aged Susan. As a nonchalant youth of the British upper-class suburban world of tennis clubs, golfing stockbrokers and unhappy couples in the 60's, Paul had stumbled along with the best intentions. He framed his love for Susan as a heroic quest for freedom from suffocating parental expectation, but consequences follow even the smallest of acts. What had once seemed simple and carefree soon becomes a complex and painful burden, where words said and roads taken become irredeemable.
The older Paul's retrospection is intricate in itself, with his viewpoints constantly changing and slipping from one interpretation to another. The cover image of this book hints at this - it depicts a tear-stained journal with quotes crossed-out and new ones written in, telling of a past not set, but changing with every remembering. These rememberings are steeped in a sense of droll melancholia, and our narrator is a sharp observer, however uncertain he is of details.
There is some gentle satire of the English character that is reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh, and some asides on ageing that will linger. I advise you to savour this book as the author's exquisite prose and insight can be easily be missed in the tight narrative.
Soren Kierkegaard once famously said that "life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." Julian Barnes shows us that understanding life backwards is much trickier than you'd think - it keeps transforming, with new understandings forcing out the old.
With The Only Story, he has created another thoughtful and elegant masterpiece that is touching and deep, and arguably his best yet - it is certainly worthy of another Booker Prize.
You will be left pondering the bittersweet legacy of your one true love, musing on time's arrow and the endless ripples of loss