7,538 book reviews and counting...

The Only Story Reviews

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

The Only Story

Julian Barnes

4.33 out of 5

4 reviews

Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 29 Jan 2018
ISBN: 9781787330696

**THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER**Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less?First love has lifelong consequences, but Paul doesn't know anything about that at nineteen.As he grows older, the demands placed on Paul by love become far greater than he could possibly have foreseen.

  • The TimesBook of the Year
4 stars out of 5

" a novel that quietly sinks its hooks into the reader and refuses to let go"

But these are constraints only in the way that handcuffs were constraints for Houdini, because although The Only Story contains some familiar elements, it deals with them in consistently surprising ways. It is a novel that quietly sinks its hooks into the reader and refuses to let go.
 

Reviews

5 stars out of 5
Alex Preston
4 Feb 2018

"...quietly breathtaking, evidence of the subterranean magic that’s wrought by those seemingly austere sentences."

The Only Story, which steps through familiar Barnesian territory, giving us the English suburbs, an aged protagonist looking back over an unfulfilled life, all told in deceptively affectless prose. It would appear that the muted critical response to Barnes’s dazzling meta-fictive portrait of the life of Shostakovich, The Noise of Time, has persuaded him to return to the style and subject matter of the Man Booker prize-winning The Sense of an Ending (2011).... The ending is quietly breathtaking, evidence of the subterranean magic that’s wrought by those seemingly austere sentences.

5 stars out of 5
Lara Feigel
27 Jan 2018

"This intense, taut, sad and often beautiful tale may well be Barnes’s best novel for some years."

The effect of this mutability, more than in the tricksier world of Flaubert’s Parrot, more than in the more obviously destructive world of The Good Soldier, is to create a readerly disappointment that’s all the stronger for the speed with which it occurs. The prose, though often playful and always elegant, propels us forward, first into joy, and then into despair, and there is no escape from the central story as it becomes bleaker. This intense, taut, sad and often beautiful tale may well be Barnes’s best novel for some years.

4 stars out of 5
Kate Clanchy
26 Jan 2018

"...a fine line in rhythmic, elegant, understated prose, and plenty to say about time, love and the slippery nature of memory."

All this means that the exquisite moments – and there are many – in The Only Story come from its psychological acuity, especially about how we remember. In Paul’s narrative, experiences deconstruct themselves and personalities decay in a devastatingly convincing way. Susan is at first an alluring, rich, potent presence, full of ironic turns of speech from which we infer great intelligence; but she becomes reduced, by the middle of the book, to a series of repetitive tropes (“A played-out generation … this has all been frightfully interesting”), while even her nicknames, a vital part of her charm, are reduced to verbal tics: “Mr EP” for the man who hits her, “Mr Badger” for Paul. She carries on asking desperate questions until we, not just Paul, wonder if we ever knew her at all.