The Only Story

Knopf. Apr. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9780525521211. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780525521297. F
At age 19, Paul meets 48-year-old Susan Macleod at the local tennis club and the two begin an affair that lasts for more than a decade. Paul reflects on the heady, happy early years of the relationship and then delves into its darker passages and eventual disintegration, which haunts him throughout his life. The specificity of the circumstances and personalities of Paul and Susan make it clear that this is not an "older woman schools young man in love and sends him into the world" tale. Overall, it is a story about memory. Man Booker Prize winner Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) skillfully plays with narrative form, turning the novel into something of a metafiction without making it ponderous or difficult to read. While Paul is decidedly the narrator throughout, the point of view shifts depending on how much he wants to distance himself from the emotional pain. He begins in first person, then moves to second person in the grimmest period, then third person when reflecting on life after Susan, only returning to first person in the final pages.
VERDICT Absorbing enough to polish off over a weekend, this novel has a place in popular and literary collections. [See Prepub Alert, 10/22/17.]
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