by Ju­lian Barnes

The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Books -

How do you ex­press a re­gret? Do you put your heart on your sleeve and con­fess it? Do you play lawyer and coolly as­sess it from a dis­tance? Or do you try to bar­gain and ra­tio­nalise, point­ing to all the ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing your mis­take?

For Paul, the nar­ra­tor of Ju­lian Barnes’ heart­break­ing 13th novel, The Only Story, the an­swer is “all of the above” and more: He writes as if in a hall of mir­rors to make sense of his young, cal­low self. It’s a cliché to say that love is in­ex­pli­ca­ble, but the strength of The Only Story is Barnes’ will­ing­ness to ex­plore the na­ture of that in­ex­pli­ca­bil­ity, how it makes for hon­ey­moons and tragedies alike. Ra­tio­nal an­swers are hard to ind, but dam­age is clear to see: “First love cau­terises the heart,” Paul laments. “And all any searcher will ind there­after is scar tis­sue.”

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