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The Only Story: A novel
by Julian Barnes

Published: 2018-04-17
Hardcover : 272 pages
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One of the Best Books of the Year: San Francisco ChronicleFinancial Times 

Most of us have only one story to tell . . . only one that matters, only one finally worth telling. This is mine.


One summer in the sixties, in a staid suburb south of London, nineteen-year-old Paul comes home ...
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Introduction

One of the Best Books of the Year: San Francisco ChronicleFinancial Times 

Most of us have only one story to tell . . . only one that matters, only one finally worth telling. This is mine.


One summer in the sixties, in a staid suburb south of London, nineteen-year-old Paul comes home from university and is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. There he’s partnered with Susan Macleod, a fine player who’s forty-eight, confident, witty, and married, with two nearly adult daughters. She is a warm companion, her bond with Paul immediate. And soon, inevitably, they are lovers.

Basking in the glow of one another, they set up house together in London. Decades later, Paul looks back at how they fell in love and how—gradually, relentlessly—everything fell apart. As he turns over his only story in his mind, examining it from different vantage points, he finds himself confronted with the contradictions and slips of his own memory—and the ways in which our narratives and our lives shape one another. Poignant, vivid and profound, The Only Story is a searing novel of memory, devotion, and how first love fixes a life forever.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of April 2018: In Julian Barnes’s ruminative, finely wrought, and often wryly funny novel, The Only Story is the story of love: the ideal of love, and love as it is lived. In this case, it’s the story of Paul and Susan, who are, respectively, 19 and 49 when they meet. As in his Man Booker prize-winning novel, The Sense of an Ending, Barnes is preoccupied by memory’s lapses and the subjectivity of truth. This is also a novel about drinking, and Barnes serves up a quintessentially late-career cocktail. Leave sweet drinks to the young, he seems to say. The mature palate calls for bitters.

“Most of us have only one story to tell,” says Paul. “I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there’s only one that matters, only one finally worth telling. This is mine.” It begins more than fifty years ago, in the kind of London suburb where stockbrokers play cricket on the Village Green on Saturdays. When a new delicatessen opens, residents view it as “subversive in its offerings of European goods.”

Paul meets Susan at the local tennis club, and at first their 30-year age difference doesn’t seem to matter. “In terms of – what shall I call it? The age of her spirit, perhaps – we aren’t that far apart.” As time darkens the lovers’ initial exuberance, Paul’s narration, which began with the immediacy of the first person voice, shifts, heartbreakingly, to the second, and ultimately, when he feels “rebuked by life,” to the third. Though readers will marvel at the sophistication of this and other novelistic strategies Barnes employs, their end result is that though we might wish The Only Story had a sweeter ending, the one Barnes gives us feels deeply true: bitter, yes, but satisfying, too. —Sarah Harrison Smith, Amazon Book Review

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