The first sentence of this novel is, “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less and suffer the less?” It’s the kind of big question we all ask ourselves as we age and gain perspective on life and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what made us this way.
This is a first-person narrative about what it’s like to fall in love with someone who is entirely inappropriate. It’s romantic and sad and sometimes very funny.
— Becky Dayton
May 2018 Indie Next List
“The Only Story, a love story that captivated me from the very first page, tells of Paul, a young man who at the age of 19 falls in love with a woman almost 30 years his senior. Now in the sunset of his life, Paul looks back with tenderness on the life they had together, how everything fell apart, and how his life evolved as a result. I loved the author's reflections on love and found myself savoring his words, not wanting the book to end. A beautiful story from a superb writer.”
— Danielle Bauter, Laguna Beach Books, Laguna, CA
One of the Best Books of the Year: San Francisco Chronicle, Financial 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.
About the Author
JULIAN BARNES is the author of twenty-one previous books, for which he has received the Man Booker Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the David Cohen Prize for Literature, and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the French Prix Medicis and Prix Femina; the Austrian State Prize for European Literature; and in 2004 he was named Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. He lives in London.
“[The Only Story] combines complicated relationships with a limpid, unfussy style, brilliant wit with sorrow, an obsession with love and its shelf life, and a commitment not only to great storytelling but also to exploring how stories are told.”—Porter Shreve, San Francisco Chronicle “Written with crystalline retrospection. . . . The youthful missteps that give shape to life is Julian Barnes’s great theme.”—Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“Barnes’ prose is quietly elegant and adroit. . . . [The Only Story is] a thought-provoking meditation on memory and the seemingly endless complexities of love.”—Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch “Tender and touching. . . . The Only Story is a gracefully told and . . . honest rendering of the arc of a great passion.”—Harvey Freedenberg, Book Reporter “Heartbreaking. . . . It’s a cliché to say the love is inexplicable, but the strength of The Only Story is Barnes’s willingness to explore the nature of that inexplicability, how it makes for honeymoons and tragedies alike.”—Mark Athitakis, Newsday “Beautifully done.”—Heller McAlpin, NPR
“Perplexing, profoundly enjoyable. . . . Lyrical and lasting.”—Thomas J. Millay, Los Angeles Review of Books “Barnes’s novels, essays, and stories are among the most innovative works of literature of the past forty years [and The Only Story] is one of the best books of his career.”—Michael Magras, The Houston Chronicle “The prose master paints a lovely, elegiac portrait of a young man’s disruptive love affair . . . forgoing the easy literary clichés of May-December romance for something much sadder, deeper, and more resonant.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Mesmeric. . . . The reader drifts along on Barnes’ gorgeous, undulating prose. Focusing on love, memory, nostalgia, and how contemporary Britain came to be, Barnes’ latest will enrapture readers from beginning to end.”—Alexander Moran, Booklist (starred)
“[This] deeply touching novel is a study of heartbreak. . . . By revisiting the flow and ebb of one man’s passion, Barnes eloquently illuminates the connection between an old man and his younger self.”—Publishers Weekly
“Consistently surprising. . . . It shows a novelist at the height of his powers [and is] a book that quietly sinks its hooks into the reader and refuses to let go.”—Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Times (UK)
“Often playful and always elegant, [it] propels us forward, first into joy, and then into despair, and there is no escape from the central story as it becomes bleaker. This intense, taut, sad and often beautiful tale may well be Barnes's best.”—Lara Feigel, The Spectator
“One to savour. . . . Emotionally acute, profoundly beautiful, as droll as it is deep.”— Hephzibah Anderson, The Mail on Sunday
“Gentle, bleak, and brilliant . . . His themes are the big, unfashionable universals—ageing, memory, above all love.”—Jon Day, The Financial Times