'The Only Story' (2018) by Julian Barnes tells the story of one man - Paul and the one love, the only story, the single relationship that defines him, that determines his path in life.
There are echoes here of Barnes' brilliant 'Sense of an Ending' - to which 'Only Story' is most definitely a worthy successor, but the two are both very different books, different stories to be told. In 'Only Story' Barnes is mapping the human heart and plotting the anatomy of a one-time functional, erstwhile highly dysfunctional and crumbling relationship - which is all-encompassing, life-determining - and Barnes writes here with such precision, such tenderness, such intensity and an almost forensic analysis of the dynamics, history and impact of such a relationship.
Barnes writes this story from the single but multiple perspectives of Paul - as a young (some might say) naïve and inexperienced 19 year old, embarking on a first meaningful relationship; from Paul living and breathing that relationship; from Paul as an older man - looking back at his life and recounting the relationship that came to determine him.
'The Only Story' is a very authentic, truthful and intense story and there is little or no romanticism here, Paul is certainly an anti-heroic central protagonist in this story. There is much here also to consider about memory and truth and the deeply flawed nature of nostalgia.
'The Only Story' is a very dark story, or at least a story that takes many dark turns - it is written so very well, with such clarity, depth of feeling, authenticity and sense of purpose. Whilst Barnes latest novel may not be quite up there with 'Sense of an Ending' - it is certainly extremely close. Highly recommended and not to be missed.