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A profoundly moving story of first love and memory from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending

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 Britain's greatest mappers of the human heart.


A novelist at the height of his powers ... Quietly devastating.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Times


Kate Clanchy, Guardian

Emotionally acute, profoundly beautiful, as droll as it is deep... this has to be one of the smartest novels that 2018 has to offer.

Hephzibah Anderson, Mail on Sunday

A gentle, bleak, and brilliant novel.

Jon Day, Financial Times

Immensely powerful.

Alex Clark, New Statesman

This intense, taut, sad and often beautiful tale may well be Barnes’ best novel for years.

Lara Feigel, Spectator

A tender and heartbreaking novel.

Alex Preston, Observer

As quiet and aching and intimate as a James Blake ballad.

Rupert Goold

A sensitive look at what makes lovers tick.

Robbie Millen, The Times

A vivid dramatization of the narcissism of obsessive love.


Cunningly crafted and sharply observed.

Anthony Cummins, Daily Mail

Barnes writes with shattering emotional acuity. The moments of pure devastation pile up, the story crushing with increasing weight as it unfurls.

Lucy Scholes, Independent

An utterly devastating masterpiece of a novel.

Anne Cunningham, Irish Independent

At once understated and dazzling. Which perhaps sums [Barnes] up, the dazzle lying not in the shimmer of individual sentences so much as in the curves and vaults of his structural decisions.

Michael Gorra, New York Review of Books

A quietly harrowing novel about the complexity of love and the slipperiness of memory.

The Week

Distils some of the pandemonium, and intergenerational conflict, of our own uncertain time.

Max Lin

Barnes gives us a novel that asks the profoundest questions about memory, love and human existence.

Lindsay MacPherson and Ben Felsenburg, Harrods Magazine

What begins as a witty tale of rebellion against bourgeois norms becomes a moving meditation on love. Once again Barnes shows off his skill at getting to the heart of a human heart.

Fanny Blake, Woman & Home

Deeply affecting and profoundly philosophical, The Only Story is a novel by an author at the height of his technical powers.

Charlotte Heathcote, Sunday Express

Barnes' knowing combination of humour and seriousness makes [The Only Story] ... a persuasive universal romance.

Lindsay Duguid, Tablet

A beautiful, tragic and poignant novel.

Huston Gilmore, Daily Express

In this year’s hottest new releases.

The Week **Best Books 2018**

Tender, wise and beautifully written, this is sad and deeply moving stuff from Barnes. Highly recommended.

Olaf Tyaransen, Hot Press


Paddy Kehoe, RTE Online

A brave and expansive work, compellingly told.

Susan Byron, Catholic Herald

A thoroughly rewarding book – a compassionate, touching and funny account… A profound book, it compels one to think about one’s own life.

Richard Hopton, Country & Town House

A brilliant, rueful look at love.

Tom Gliatto, People Magazine

A solemn-ish meditation on the fallibility of memory… A love story – bitter and sweet in parts – unfurls.


Moving, funny, with ingenious emotional intelligence, it’s one to read and read again.

Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday, **Books of the Year**

Barnes’s novel chronicles their romance with an austere tenderness

Jane Shilling, Daily Mail

[Barnes’s] facility for writing artfully conceived and executed novels about unfulfilled, disappointed lives has risen to almost unassailable heights.

Alastair Mabbott, Herald

Julian Barnes writes shockingly well about emotion… The Only Story is devastating and wonderful.

Victoria Hislop, Good Housekeeping

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    February 5, 2019


    224 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Dymocks
    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    • The Nile

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au



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.

You may point out – correctly – that it isn’t a real question. Because we don’t have the choice. If we had the choice, then there would be a question. But we don’t, so there isn’t. Who can control how much they love? If you can control it, then it isn’t love. I don’t know what you call it instead, but it isn’t love.

Most of us have only one story to tell. 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. This is mine.

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