cover image The Only Story

The Only Story

Julian Barnes. Knopf, $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525-52121-1

Barnes’s deeply touching novel is a study of heartbreak; like his Man Booker Prize–winning The Sense of an Ending, it includes fading reminiscences, emotional complications, and moments of immeasurable sadness as an aging Englishman remembers his first and only love. Bored 19-year-old Paul meets 48-year-old Susan at the tennis club when they pair up for mixed doubles. She has a husband and two daughters older than Paul, but it is the 1960s, Paul’s first summer home from university, and he is impervious to social correctness, parental disapproval, or long-term consequences. Paul and Susan share a satiric view of their suburban surroundings that turns into a secret romance, then a not-so-secret affair. Together they move to London, where, over the next decade, Paul studies law and becomes a law office manager while Susan deteriorates into alcoholism and depression. Fifty years later, Paul looks back on the relationship in an account strewn with unanswerable questions and observations about the nature of love. As painful memories mount, Paul’s narration switches first to second person and then builds more distance by settling into third person. By revisiting the flow and ebb of one man’s passion, Barnes eloquently illuminates the connection between an old man and his younger self. 75,000-copy announced first printing. (Apr.)