My last read is The only story, by Julian Barnes.
Considering that The sense of an ending was a really good book, my expectations were much higher this time from Barnes. Considering this is his latest novel, and all critics highly appraised it, I jumped right into it.
The only story is not the usual story that may send a very strong emotion from start, a story that might make you shed some tears, or the story that might make you stop and start thinking for some time before you continue. This novel is mostly about pain, in different aspects, of loving, or rather, of not knowing how to love.
We two characters from different worlds, but very much alike: Susan and Paul.
Susan is a middle aged woman, wife and mother of two children, who mostly missed her whole life, being stuck in a marriage without fulfillment, and without any joy in her life. The daughters, old enough to purse their own life, and her husband, lonely and distant enough to allow her to do whatever she wants or likes with the time and money at her disposal.
She meets Paul, a young boy, of only 19, who has no idea about life, about love, about expectations or the reality that he lives in. He just started college, living with his parents, and imagining life and love in an absolute and idealistic way.
He finds in Susan a mature woman that does not treat him like a child, and the exact opposite of Veronica from The sense of an ending. He is very much attracted by her independence, her straightforwardness, her lack of “too much talking” or “undecided behavior” which characterizes most girls of that adolescence age.
Paul has the courage, the recklessness and the blindness to go inside the Macleod’s house, basically starts living with them, and begins to interact also with Mr. Macleod, who is too weak or too comfortable to really confront his wife and throw Paul out.
It is not long before this story comes to a natural , or expected resolution: Susan and Paul move together in another town, him abandoning his parents , she, abandoning her husband and her old life.
This should somehow bring happiness for everyone, but it’s not the case. Susan is a mother, an adulteress, a scarlet woman. The social and psychological pressure on her is too great for her to bare. She was a simple girl, did not have many relationships, did not know how to express her feelings, did not know where and how to go. Even at the mature age (50) she still is a little girl in many ways. She cannot find a solution, and perhaps in her way she realizes that her new lover, 30 years younger, cannot and will not be by her side as an old lady forever.
Susan starts drinking, first in a small matter, then reaching the stages of alcoholism. This leads to her brain damaging, dementia and later getting her committed in hospital care.
Paul never manages to get through after his relationship with Susan. He tries with different women, some more or less understanding of his past. All his remaining life he tries to understand what is love, what was wrong with his love, and why his feelings have died, and why Susan has abandoned him, them, and mostly herself.
The sad ending can only tell us that we should live the moment, enjoy while it lasts, and expectations of forever joy, forever happiness are futile.
As Paul finds out, every one has a story. And all stories have a bad ending.
The only story is Paul’s story, not necessarily Susan’s, it’s a sad and compelling story, in some ways similar with The sense of an ending, but with different emotions. Both novels focus on understanding past love, as seen from later age, one of them about the misunderstanding of love goals, and the other about not understanding the pure femininity.
Barnes proves once again that he is a great writer. I am looking forward for his next novels in my queue.