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Review: The Only Story by Julian Barnes

My Interest

I discovered this book on Powell’s Books website.

The Story

19 years old, home from college and bored, Paul agrees in desperation to his mother’s suggestion of a summer membership to the local Tennis Club. There he meets the predictable “Carolines and Hugos” and Mrs. MacLeod (Susan). They play a mixed-doubles match together and start an affair that will affect the course of Paul’s life.

“Sometimes I forget about other people. About them existing. People I’ve never met, I mean.” Susan says early on. And she lives up to this well and truly.

Paul and Susan, at first, are giddy over their odd attraction to each other. Susan, long the wife of a sexless marriage and Paul, the young man eager for sex in a Britain not yet into the “real” 1960s and it’s sexual revolution, find they differ little from each other in terms of bedroom experience. They muddle on.

That’s one of the things about life. We’re all just looking for a place of safety. And if you don’t find one, then you have to learn how to pass the time.”

Only the time stops passing. It starts dragging. It stops. Totally stops as Susan either descends into alcoholism or Paul discovers her addition.

It was at this point the book seemed to just fall apart for me. I understand the premise–the tone and tenor of the book are meant to mimic and mirror the slow descent into the death of the relationship. But it did not work well to me. It was like reading a hastily scribbled draft. I felt like whatever is before a Beta reader. I lost all interest in the characters at this point and, though I finished it, I never regained my initial interest in them. Maybe that was par to of the author’s plan? I have no idea.

I often write about my fondness for sincere older man, younger woman relationships (not the Sugar Daddy/Gold digger variety) and so, reading the premise of this novel, I thought I’d enjoy it. I didn’t. He looked foolish and she buffoonish by the end. He could be forgiven due to his youth at the onset of the relationship. She was just a bored housewife and deserves the negative connotations of that term.

My Verdict

The title comes from the premise that: “Most of us only have one story to tell….only one finally worth telling.” Once the newness wore off, I’m not sure that was true of Paul’s story.

2.5 stars

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

4 thoughts on “Review: The Only Story by Julian Barnes

  1. Ouch! 2.5 stars. Barnes is inconsistent. I’ve read two of his books, The Noise of Time – which I liked, and A Sense of Ending, which was strange and unmemorable except for my feeling I didn’t get it.

    Liked by 1 person

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