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Publisher's Summary

From the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of An Ending, a novel about a young man on the cusp of adulthood and a woman who has long been there, a love story shot through with sheer beauty, profound sadness, and deep truth.

Most of us have only one story to tell. I don't mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there's only one that matters, only one finally worth telling. This is mine.

One summer in the 60s, in a staid suburb south of London, Paul comes home from university, aged 19, and is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. In the mixed-doubles tournament he's partnered with Susan Macleod, a fine player who's 48, confident, ironic, and married, with two nearly adult daughters. She is also a warm companion, their bond immediate. And they soon, inevitably, are lovers. Clinging to each other as though their lives depend on it, they then set up house in London to escape his parents and the abusive Mr. Mcleod.

Decades later, with Susan now dead, Paul looks back at how they fell in love, how he freed her from a sterile marriage, and how - gradually, relentlessly - everything fell apart, as she succumbed to depression and worse while he struggled to understand the intricacy and depth of the human heart. It's a piercing account of helpless devotion, and of how memory can confound us and fail us and surprise us (sometimes all at once), of how, as Paul puts it, "first love fixes a life forever."

©2018 Julian Barnes (P)2018 W. F. Howes

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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Disappointing

Very maudlin and not much to captivate the reader. I was expecting more from this accomplished author.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

by far the most unremarkable book I ever heard

Narration is fine so no fault there. As the first 15 minutes unfolded I thought/hoped this book might read like the diary of an old man that you find tucked under some books at a garage sale, you know a real treasure. You give it the benefit of the doubt for the first 30 minutes because you respect your elders and you think/hope they can share something wise with you. However, after you have totally zoned out for 7 hours as this book literally has gone nowhere and at the speed of water freezing into lava (makes no sense just like the book) you sadly realize that it is fact not a sage old man's diary but actually the uncompleted coloring book of 3 year old that had only 2 crayons (both made of slightly different shades of grey).

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • KP
  • Oakland, CA
  • 09-21-18

The Only Story

I really loved Julian Barnes’ previous book, The Sense of an Ending. This book, The Only Story, seems a lot sadder and more depressing, which is saying a lot since The Sense of an Ending wasn’t the happiest book around, anyway! This one also has to do with a love affair between a younger man and a much older woman, but it is more simply a look back by the younger man, who is now 50+, in order to examine what went wrong with the affair and to try to make sense of his life.

I enjoyed that the couple met on the tennis courts playing doubles, since that’s my game. Some tennis symbolism in the book is interesting, too. While they are playing tennis, Susan who is then 45 warns Casey Paul, all of 19 years old, to watch out for the middle of the court where players can most easily win a point by dividing their opponents with a good shot down the middle. It’s a common strategy in doubles tennis. THEN when Susan and Casey go to bed together soon after, Susan whispers, “Never forget, the most vulnerable spot is down the middle.” This rings true at the start of their relationship and proves to be a potent symbol of a weakness in it later on: the space between them, the differences between them. And I laughed when, on their very first sexual encounter, as they look down at the bed in front of them, Susan says, “ Which side do you prefer? Forehand or backhand?” I’ll remember that one ☺

I do think Barnes is a good writer! One technique in this book that I loved is how he starts out the book from the first person perspective of the young man, Casey Paul. Barnes writes, “And first love always happens in the overwhelming first person. How can it not? Also, in the overwhelming present tense. It takes us time to realize that there are other persons, and other tenses.” In the second section, Barnes writes in the second person. It’s almost like the story is becoming so tragic and complicated that the writer is retreating to the second person as a way to show distance that is developing between the two lovers. And then by the third section, there is a further retreat to the third person. The author writes, “But nowadays, the raucousness of the first person within him was stilled. It was as if he viewed, and lived, his life in the third person. Which allowed him to assess it more accurately, he believed." I appreciate how the writer’s voice echoes the deterioration of the relationship. Interesting.

The relationship between Susan and Casey should have been a fling. The fact that they kept it going on and on seems to have ruined both of them! That is the tragedy. In the beginning, Casey likes the idea of the relationship because it was so against what his parents and society would condone. He condemns people like his parents as “furrow dwellers” living out a boring existence for decades from which there is “no escape, no turning back.” By continuing his relationship with Susan for decades, he ironically succumbs to the same fate in a sense, although his fate is really more tragic in its outcome. Still Casey says about himself and Susan toward the end, “… still they hadn’t been defeated by practicality.” Hmm. Better to be practical than to end up with the fate of those two, in my opinion.

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ADeepDive

The narrator set a tone that was intoxicating. It felt almost like someone whispering their deepest secrets. The story navigating a life examined explored multiple important themes, including infidelity, love, abuse, alcoholism. Moving, thoughtful and engaging.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Sorry, Julian. Not this time.

Pretty bad all round. I love British fiction of all periods, and have been reading Julian Barnes since the days of Flaubert's Parrot. This was just plain dull and repetitive, lacking dramatic tension or any kind of depth of character. I couldn't finish it, and the annoyingly maudlin voice the narrator gave to the female characters was off-putting. I kept wondering whether it would be better to read this than to listen to it, but the story itself didn't have enough to recommend it. I see what Barnes was trying to do, but he didn't do it. The novel was neither a meditation on love nor was it an exploration of the uses and failures of memory; the framework of the book allowed for either of these possibilities, but it didn't come to fruition. I kept wondering what a writer like Ian McEwan could have made of this very basic and shopworn plot.

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An ok book

While I enjoyed this book, it was a bit long in parts. However, worth reading.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

worst book ever. painful to listen to til the end.

one of the most boring books ever with a non ending and chapters that seemed to drag on

1 of 2 people found this review helpful