Reviewed by Dolores Maund
The characters in The Only Story are superbly drawn and so convincingly fleshed out that, in addition to causing me to weep on occasion, they have remained alive in my imagination during the past six or so weeks since reading the book and will undoubtedly continue to do so. Furthermore, I should add that the book so engaged me that I began it on an afternoon and finished it the next morning while still in bed. Barnes was able to take me into his world and completely envelop me. It was as if he had invited me to listen to him, a man of mature years, attempt to put the pieces of the jigsaw of his life together, a process which is common to those of a reflective and sensitive disposition as they sense the dimming of the light. In Barnes’ case, as undoubtedly with others, the entire process of such reflection and attempt at making sense of the most important aspects of life is given further impetus by the pain and suffering endured, the disappointments and the loses experienced. One can’t imagine that a person who views the world through the lens of positive thinking would ever have either the wherewithal or the inclination for such a pursuit. One of Barnes’ themes is the way in which we change our judgements about what we remember about both ourselves and others, how maturity and experience cause us to see things not simply in greater complexity but often dramatically differently. For example, his view of the husband from the vantage point of maturity bears no resemblance to that which he held as a young man. We make about turns which would have been unimaginable to our younger selves. While Barnes’ close and courageous examination of certain aspects of his life, those he undoubtedly considers the most important, could not have been achieved without considerable emotional cost, he does convey that the end result is a degree of acceptance which comes from understanding and with it the gaining of equanimity. However, the very nature of the process which Barnes describes is also one without an ending, is never complete, is always partial. If one of the aims of literature is to provide the reader with a rendering of the interior life which affirms and illuminates the readers’ own experience of life, and in doing so bridges that gap in communication and understanding which exists to varying degrees between all human beings, then, in The Only Story, Barnes has produced a tour de force. For the intimacy which Barnes afforded me in this exquisitely sensitive book I am not only grateful but also know that he has left a permanent imprint on my emotional landscape. I hope he knows how much he has enriched the lives of those who have loved this book.