Review: The Only Story

2019-02-21 09.19.21

Rating: 4 Stars

I finally got around to reading The Only Story by Julian Barnes even though I had bought it soon after it was published last year. I thought it took me a long time to read The Sense of an Ending because I was travelling and didn’t get much time to read. After reading The Only Story, I realized that I was wrong.

Barnes’s writing is such that it needs to be read slowly, each sentence needing complete concentration. His books are not light reading by any stretch of imagination, they require your full attention. I don’t know what it is about his words, but I had to stop reading several times just to chew upon what I had read. Also, because some parts made my heart feel so heavy that I had no choice but to put the book down for a few hours.

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.

Paul was nineteen when he fell in love for the very first time. This first love was what defined the rest of his life, and what was the only story he found worth telling. It might have been a regular love story, had Paul not fallen in love with a woman in her mid-forties, old enough to be his mother.

Paul was happy being the village scandal at that age, and thought, with the immaturity of youth, that love was enough for a couple. That they could live with their love for the rest of their lives without needing anyone or anything else. What followed, was something that Paul could never have imagined.

There are so many issues underlying what is essentially a love story, that it seems inevitable that things will spiral out of control. From domestic abuse to alcoholism, PTSD to depression, every character is flawed. And every character is all the more human because of these flaws.

What we are given is not actually an accurate account of the events or the characters, for it is coloured by Paul’s own prejudices and the diluting effect time has had on his memories. We are shown the story through his eyes as he looks back at his life after decades, and that makes you wary of believing what he says. After all, every man wants to be the hero in his own story.

In the end, it is easy to feel some sort of sympathy for the young boy and understanding for the young man, who had to make some tough decisions in life when all he wanted was to love unconditionally and not care about convention.

It may not be as powerful as Sense of an Ending, but this book comes quite close to it in my opinion.

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