Review: The Only Story


Julian Barnes is one of my favourite writers. Before reading The Only Story, I listened to an interview with Julian Barnes on Open Book by Mariella Frostrup on BBC Radio. It whetted my appetite, Julian Barnes is as eloquent on the page as he is on paper.

In The Only Story, Barnes returns to the subject of love in seemingly ordinary settings. In this case, it begins in a village in Surrey in the 1960s. Paul, 19 and home from university, strikes up an affair with a married woman who is thirty years his senior. The lyrical description of how they met at the local tennis club makes the book worth it even at that early stage. At its beginning Paul makes the affair seem easy, but this is a book by Julian Barnes, it can’t be easy. This section is narrated by a young Paul who skims over the resistance to relationship and obstacles seem quite easily overcome.

The second section begins with the gusto of any young man embarking on an adventure. However, he’s already let us know that the relationship is ill-fated. “I also discovered it wasn’t only men who snored,” Paul tells us when describing their setting up house.

The relationship becomes more complex involving, emotional and finally collapses as we knew it would. The details are narrated in the third person and we find Paul older, disillusioned and in search of an explanation for the demise of his relationship.

 The Only Story is classic Barnes – an excellent book.

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