THE ONLY STORY
by Julian Barnes
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.”