I’ve read quite a bit of Barnes and mostly enjoyed them and although this is by no means my favorite, I liked it better than The Sense of an Ending (2011). This is the first person tale of an older man, past middle age, who is remembering (an ongoing Barnes theme) the love of his life from it’s beginning many years prior, to its end several years before the actual telling. The span of years is probably from the early 1960s to the late 1980s or maybe early 1990s – roughly – decades.
Paul thinks back to when he was a 19-year old college student living with his upper middle class parents in an upstanding suburb south of London when he met Susan Macleod age 40-something, well-to-do, and married. They were both playing tennis at the country club that summer when something clicked between them. The romance didn’t end in the fall. I’m not going to say much about it because that would really give things away which I think should be left to unfold in their sad way.
The Only Story
by Julian Barnes
2018 / 261 pages
read by Guy Mott – 7h 21m
rating: 9 / contemp fiction
Needless to say it’s a story of the May-December variety of love, the book is not long, and it’s beautifully written with an exquisite sensitivity. Barnes has parts spot on and something tells me the man knows whereof he speaks. I identified with Susan in many, many (!), places.
But where the protagonist in The Sense of an Ending played little games with truth and memory, Paul is really trying as best he can to be honest – to find and tease out the truth from a tangle of time and memory and ego.
Barnes waxes very philosophical/psychological trying to understand in hindsight the most important aspect of his life – his “only story” wondering in many ways if it was “better to have loved and lost or to have never loved at all.”
Thank you, Mr Barnes – good book!