The Only Story

The Only Story, written by Man Booker Prize-winning author Julian Barnes, is an achingly profound love story

Julian Barnes

From the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending, an achingly profound love story between a young man on the cusp of adulthood and a woman whose life is gradually moving in the opposite direction.

It is the early 1960s, and in a staid suburb 15 miles south of London, Paul, 19, home from university for the holidays, is urged by his mother to join the tennis club. At the mixed doubles tournament he is partnered with Mrs. Susan Macleod: she's more than twice his age, and the married mother of two nearly grown-up daughters. Soon Paul and Susan embark on an unconventional affair, despite the disapproval of Paul's parents and the seething resentment of Susan's husband, who can't quite play along with the ruse that Paul is merely a surrogate son and family friend.

Wryly observant and devastatingly tender, Julian Barnes has created an eviscerating portrait of an unforgettable pair of star-cross'd lovers. The Only Story is a wise and contemplative novel by one of fiction's greatest mappers of the human heart. (From Random House Canada)

From the book

Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.

You may point out — correctly — that it isn't a real question. Because we don't have the choice. If we had the choice then there would be a question. But we don't, so there isn't. Who can control how much they love? If you can control it, then it isn't love. I don't know what you call it instead, but it isn't love.

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.

From The Only Story by Julian Barnes ©2018. Published by Random House Canada.


The celebrated English writer talked to Eleanor Wachtel in 2011, shortly after winning the Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending.