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 profound, The Only Story is an achingly beautiful novel by one of fiction’s greatest mappers of the human heart.
Review by Ben Hunter
When a single reading copy of The Only Story got delivered to Booktopia there was an immediate squabble as to who would get to read it first. I knew Julian Barnes was good, but I didn’t know he was book fight good.
Late at night, on finishing this book, I walked out my front door and continued all the way to the ocean’s edge. I sat there looking into the black water for a very long time. For days following, the people I live with would ask what was wrong with me – I’d become almost mute – “I’ve read a book,” I’d tell them.
The Only Story benefits from the same qualities as Julian Barnes’ Man Booker-winning, screen-adapted novel, The Sense of an Ending. An aged man looks back on a youth of privilege, passion and disappointment, and puzzles over how he or anyone else can evaluate their life. This searching for the true essence of things warrants acute self-editing from the narrator, cutting through the humdrum with fantastic flashes of wit. Through this Barnes delivers the reader a supremely crafted book, something that’s a delight to read even in its darkest moments.
The narrator of this book obsesses over the life-defining idea of romantic love – love that eclipses family, that is only improved by difference and struggle, love that is perfectly and wholly irrational. What smashes me to pieces about this novel is that as quickly as he is able to propagate and latch onto his obsession for it, love escapes him in the worst possible, and yet most inevitable, of ways. For decades this man keeps a notebook of cliches and aphorisms on love, crossing out those which don’t hold true. Every one of these scribblings has the power to open up a whole worlds of rumination in the reader. The urgency and truth in this writing surpasses that of The Sense of an Ending. You’ll be taking midnight ocean walks of your own after reading
"A novelist at the height of his powers ... Quietly devastating." -- Robert Douglas-Fairhurst * The Times *
"Critics reckon it's Barnes's best novel for many years and roundly praised the `emotional acuity' of his writing." -- Laura Powell * Telegraph *
"Exquisite." -- Kate Clanchy * Guardian *
"Emotionally acute, profoundly beautiful, as droll as it is deep... this has to be one of the smartest novels that 2018 has to offer." -- Hephzibah Anderson * Mail on Sunday *
"A gentle, bleak, and brilliant novel." -- Jon Day * Financial Times *
"Immensely powerful." -- Alex Clark * New Statesman *
"This intense, taut, sad and often beautiful tale may well be Barnes' best novel for years." -- Lara Feigel * Spectator *
"A tender and heartbreaking novel." -- Alex Preston * Observer *
"As quiet and aching and intimate as a James Blake ballad." -- Rupert Goold
"A sensitive look at what makes lovers tick." -- Robbie Millen * The Times *
"A vivid dramatization of the narcissism of obsessive love." * Economist *
"Cunningly crafted and sharply observed." -- Anthony Cummins * Daily Mail *
"Barnes writes with shattering emotional acuity. The moments of pure devastation pile up, the story crushing with increasing weight as it unfurls." -- Lucy Scholes * Independent *
"An utterly devastating masterpiece of a novel." -- Anne Cunningham * Irish Independent *
"At once understated and dazzling. Which perhaps sums [Barnes] up, the dazzle lying not in the shimmer of individual sentences so much as in the curves and vaults of his structural decisions." -- Michael Gorra * New York Review of Books *
"A quietly harrowing novel about the complexity of love and the slipperiness of memory." * The Week *
"Distils some of the pandemonium, and intergenerational conflict, of our own uncertain time." -- Max Lin * i *
"Barnes gives us a novel that asks the profoundest questions about memory, love and human existence." -- Lindsay MacPherson and Ben Felsenburg * Harrods Magazine *
"What begins as a witty tale of rebellion against bourgeois norms becomes a moving meditation on love. Once again Barnes shows off his skill at getting to the heart of a human heart." -- Fanny Blake * Woman & Home *
"Deeply affecting and profoundly philosophical, The Only Story is a novel by an author at the height of his technical powers." -- Charlotte Heathcote * Sunday Express *