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Julian Barnes and the narcissism of love

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The Only Story. By Julian Barnes. Jonathan Cape; 224 pages; £16.99. To be published in America by Knopf in April; $25.95.

“ALL happy families are alike,” Tolstoy famously wrote; “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The opening lines of “Anna Karenina” are so famous, in fact, that their assumptions are broadly accepted. Write with conviction, and some people will believe anything. Julian Barnes plays on that suggestibility in his new novel. “Most of us have only one story to tell,” his narrator, Paul, says on the opening page, foisting another bold premise on the reader. “I don’t mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives: there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories. But there’s only one that matters, only one finally worth telling.”

Paul’s story is that of his love affair with Susan. He is 19 when they meet and a student at Sussex University; she is a married…Continue reading

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