Julian Barnes short new novel, The Only Story, is reminiscent of his previous Man Book Prize winning novel The Sense of Ending in that it is a novel in which an older man looks back on his life. In the case of this book the narrator, Paul, is recalling the story of a May-December romance he had at the tender age of 19, after returning home after his first year of college. Barnes, an author of twenty-two books, is known for writing books of late that focus on age, time, and those heavy themes that pervade ones life in the autumn of ones years. This book is no exception to that trend.
What starts as a Flaubert-like sentimental education, the novel turns into a meandering and tiresome exploration of how a time in one’s life and time itself shapes a life. While many of the small digressions here work well and are interesting, there are meditations on everything from love to why people complete crossword puzzles, the book as a whole feels fragmentary and never takes off.
Barnes early books were funny and witty, but this book just feels sad and stale in spite of Barnes’ abilities as a writer. The Only Story is a restrictive and gloomy tale that offers little insight outside of the occasionally smart rambling. Readers will have to work to get into this text, and may overall will be let down.
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