When Paul first met Susan, he didn't know he would fall in love for life. He just needed a tennis partner. But you know how it is in tennis. You start with love and go from there.
Paul was home from university, a 19-year-old home to waste some time, relax and enjoy life, and irritate his parents. Susan was a married woman with two daughters almost Paul's age. Although her marriage would never be considered happy, it was the 1960s, and couples stayed together. It how things were done, especially in small villages in England.
But then Paul and Susan were matched by the tennis club for some mixed doubles, and what started on the court moved into a larger arena. This is their story, told by Paul. It's their love story, the only story. The age difference never bothered Paul. He was young and thought love would be enough.
He decided to study law after university, and he and Susan found a place to live in London. And the years start to take their toll on them as individuals and on their relationship. In turns funny and heartbreaking, charming and challenging, playful and sorrowful, Julian Barnes' The Only Story is a beautifully composed novel of all the hopes and promises that we bring to relationships and what happens when they start to fall away.
Told by Paul decades after the relationship, The Only Story is a slow unfolding of flirtation and attraction, of falling into love and falling into bed, of growing together and growing apart. It's a narrative of great love, great sacrifice, and great expectations.
I feel like I'm not doing it justice, but the truth is not much happens. It's not one of those books where there is a lot of action or suspense. There are just human beings, thinking things and feeling things and experiencing things. It engages your brain, certainly, but more than that it engages your soul. This is a honest story, told without pretense, designed to make you feel all the things and remind you of everything that is amazing and heartbreaking about being in love, being in a relationship, and being a human. Julian Barnes, who won the Man Booker Prize for his novel Sense of an Ending (and was nominated for 3 others, including one of my favorites, England, England), writes a languorous novel of love and reality, and it can help heal the damage that we all encounter in life. I don't know what else to say except this: read it. It will make you a better, more understanding person. And it will make you happy.
Galleys for The Only Story were provided by Random House through their First To Read program, with many thanks.