It's an unusual author who can claim to have written a highly praised novel of literary merit partly narrated by a woodworm, but Julian Barnes’s diverse output is anything but conventional. His novels range from his debut, the linear coming-of-age story Metroland, to rather more experimental novels, including his breakthrough success Flaubert’s Parrot, A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters and the three-person love triangles explored in both Talking it Over and Love Etc. More recent meditations have focused largely on temporality - The Sense of an Ending (for which Barnes won the 2011 Man Booker Prize) and his most recent novel, the superlative The Noise of Time.
Described by some reviewers as a kind of companion piece to Julian Barnes’s Booker Prize-winning novel The Sense of An Ending, The Only Story is a meditation on time, memory and consequence. It is also a book about emotional resonance and the possibility that love might echo throughout a lifetime.
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.
First love has lifelong consequences, but Paul doesn't know anything about that at nineteen. At nineteen, he's proud of the fact his relationship flies in the face of social convention.
As he grows older, the demands placed on Paul by love become far greater than he could possibly have foreseen. Tender and wise, The Only Story is a deeply moving novel by one of fiction's greatest mappers of the human heart.
It’s an unusual author who can claim to have written a highly praised novel of literary merit partly narrated by a woodworm but Julian Barnes’s diverse output is anything but conventional.
His novels range from his debut, the linear coming-of-age story Metroland, to more experimental novels including his breakthrough success Flaubert’s Parrot, A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, the three-person love triangle explored in Talking it Over and Love Etc. and more recent meditations on temporality: The Sense of an Ending (for which he won the 2011 Booker Prize) and The Noise of Time.
'When you read a great book, you don't escape from life, you plunge deeper into it.'
'What is taken away is greater than the sum of what was there. This may not be mathematically possible; but it is emotionally possible.'
'Life is not a detective story... in life you don’t necessarily find out who did it.'Julian Barnes as crime author, writing pseudonymously as Dan Kavanagh
Educated at the City of London School and Magdalen College, Oxford, Julian Barnes first career was as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary. He then worked as a reviewer and literary editor for publications including The New Statesman and The Observer before diving headlong into the fray.
Three's a Crowd
Barnes’s first novel, Metroland (which won The Somerset Maugham Award) explores the same themes of sexual fidelity, jealousy and emotional maturation as evident in his later novels Before She Met Me and the multi-narrated three-handers Talking it Over and its sequel Love Etc. The latter deal with a tempestuous, darkly funny, embittered emotional triangle, seen in turn from the point of view of each character as they fall in and out of love.
Somewhere Over the Sea
Heavily influenced by European literary traditions, particularly French classics – he once described himself as being ‘probably anchored somewhere in the Channel’ – Barnes’s fiction has always revealed a fascination with European culture, values and customs and the way those reflect upon, and lie in contrast with, concepts of ‘Britishness’ - reflected in novels such as the satire England, England.
Barnes’s first literary breakthrough came with the disparate fictional autobiography Flaubert’s Parrot, and his interest in French literature has continued in fiction as well as numerous works of non-fiction, including a translation of Alphonse Daudet’s In the Land of Pain and the essay collections Cross Channel and Keeping an Eye Open. Barnes is unusually privileged as a British author holding the French honours of Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
‘Every Love Story Is a Potential Grief Story’
Latterly, Barnes’s attention has returned to contemplations of time; its passing, our perception of it and our ability to process and make sense of our own mortality. This has gone hand-in-hand with increasingly bold experiments in form; blurring fiction and non-fiction and different narrative styles in works including Nothing to Be Frightened Of, The Sense of an Ending (for which he won The Man Booker Prize) and Levels of Life, which begins with a meditation on ballooning and photography and ends with an evocation of Barnes’s own grief after losing his wife – an experience he describes as a realisation that ‘what is taken away is greater than the sum of what was there’.
Barnes’s interest in fictional autobiography has allowed him to consider moments in time and history from within, as in the mystery tale Arthur & George, and again more recently in the acclaimed new novel The Noise of Time.
Barnes consistently challenges preconceptions of art and form, bending and shaping ideas in new ways; he says "I think a great book… is a book that describes the world in a way that has not been done before; and that is recognized by those who read it as telling new truths—about society or the way in which emotional lives are led, or both."