Reading “The Only Story” by Julian Barnes is akin to setting out random thoughts on paper after ingesting a couple (or more) of high quality alcohol. The state of mind is not (yet) impaired by the beast of inebriation but is just alert and carefree enough to induce a flow of feelings and a rich vein of emotions that reek of uncanny honesty. This is the perfect state of mind, which every single drinker desires most in the present, but is extremely wary of in hindsight. The story of Casey Paul is a clash of contradictions between the past, and the future with the present just a fluid interface holding it all together – but just.
Casey Paul indulges in a nostalgic reverie of what has been an eventful life informed by love, inundated by pain and interspersed with a reckless sense of youthful abandon. As a nineteen-year-old youth, groomed in the traditions of civility and conventional etiquette, Casey Paul acting upon the instructions of a strict mother joins the local tennis club situated in the vicinity of his dwelling named “The Village” in Sussex. Casey’s mother hopes that in addition to finding a mixed doubles partner, her son also succeeds in netting himself an appropriate bride mirroring the Casey Paul family values. However, things take a murky, dark and dangerous turn, when Casey falls ‘smack in love’ (in his own words) with a witty, affable and competent tennis playing fellow member of the club, Susan McLeod. Susan is forty-eight, and married with two daughters one of whom is definitely older than Casey Paul.
In the face of reasoned opposition, vehement chagrins and rankled ostracism, Casey Paul decides to buck the trend and sail against the wind. Turning both a blind eye and a deaf ear to familial pleadings and threats, societal mores and accepted conventions, Casey continues his dreaded dalliance with Susan McLeod. A perennial although unsolicited presence at the McLeod household, Paul proceeds to penetrate the inner chambers of the house, before penetrating Susan herself. As the atavistic hold of love firmly gripped the conscience and circumstances of the peculiar pair of lovers, Casey Paul begins to realise the not so enviable consequences of his act.
Barnes weaves an admirable story of passion, perseverance and pity. The ebb and flow of Casey Paul’s restless life grips the reader by the scruff of her neck and throws her around like a ragged doll. Both Susan McLeod and her young lover continue to haunt and hover long after the story is complete. And yes they invoke a plethora of hidden emotions in general and one in particular, that of the first ever love!
The Only Story – worth telling and retelling!