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Summary

'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 19. At 19, 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.

©2018 Julian Barnes (P)2018 W.F. Howes Ltd

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Love's Labour Lost?


19 year-old university student Paul fell in love with 48 year-old Susan at his home-village tennis club. Married to a bitter, onion-munching and progressively violent man, Susan seizes the chance of happiness with Paul. They ‘run away together’ as the expression then was and predictably it all in ends in tears. Their love-making becomes the ‘saddest sex of all’, Susan, isolated, become a hopeless alcoholic and Paul’s love turns to impotent pity and anger. He never marries.

So far so apparently dreary, but not when written by Julian Barnes. It’s the shifting of Paul’s narrative from first, second, and third person, and old man Paul reflecting on his young self’s experience of the ‘story’, subtly exploring the progressive damage wrought by their affair which makes this deceptively ordinary everyday story so disturbing, forcing listeners into analysing their own experiences of love and loss.

The effect of Susan’s disintegration on Paul is minutely observed, and the character of Susan’s elderly friend Joan, living alone with her dogs having got her life sadly wrong, are haunting. The narration is excellent, capturing a range of narrative voices young and old, male and female convincingly and sympathetically – a real achievement.

15 people found this helpful

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Deeply moving

I found this book very moving and thought it was very skilfully written. Julian Barnes is fast becoming a firm favourite for me. If you're looking for cast iron realism then you'd be missing the point here (and probably of much fiction) I think. On the surface this is a tragic love story, but underlying it are themes to do with truth, memory, what is "real" and how time affects perceptions of events. The central character's perceptions throughout the story ebb and flow, and regardless of sex or background, I believe many will identify with the themes presented. I was struck by the changing levels of empathy the main character showed as we learn of his progression through life. In short, it's not so much about the story, whether or not it is "realistic" (whether or not you, if you are a young man, would love an older woman and so on) or finding out "what happens at the end" it's about what the story allows us to think about, or reveals in terms of our experiences and perceptions of time, memory, and what we think "truth" is. I found it to be a great experience and very thought provoking. I found myself thinking about my own past and present along with the book's narrative. It could almost be thought of as a love story in reverse now that I am thinking about how to describe it. We begin with something like a "happy ever after" and are taken on a familiar yet strange journey. I completely recommend this story.

10 people found this helpful

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Better at marketing than writing

I was really disappointed with this book after the hype that's surrounding it. While the characters are well developed, the plot is dull and very drawn out. I would not recommend reading/listening to this.

3 people found this helpful

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Ugh... don’t bother!

There was a lot of hype about this book. I’d never read anything by Julian Barnes, but thought I’d try it and I wish I hadn’t. I persevered through all 7+ hours as I hope that something mind blowing would happen, but it didn’t. There was nothing in this book to make you care about any of the characters and so it was difficult to care about the story, which was slow moving, rambling and limped to the finish line. The narrator did nothing to help create any empathy or warmth for the protagonist, but he can’t so much with such a limp story so I gave him 2 stars. I listen to 30+ audio books a year and this is the first I wish I hadn’t wasted my time on. Do yourself a favour, find another book to listen to!

5 people found this helpful

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Thoroughly depressing

Not one likeable character. Totally depressing storyline from every angle. Kept listening hoping for some kind of positive take away but it never came. Used to love JB but think this is it for me. I only hope his life is happier than that of his characters.

5 people found this helpful

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Perfection

The evolution of a love story from innocence to decay...all the things I wanted to think but couldn't are said for me here.

1 person found this helpful

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read it

the story is written in 3rd person which threw me at first. stick with it. it was a good story and excellently executed.

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food for thought

a book which encourages self reflection of one's own story, melancholic with some sad humour.

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Unreliable Memoirs

This is a superbly narrated word perfect literary tour de force about a love affair reflected upon in later life from the perspective of one partner. Notwithstanding the fact that we only have the narrator's memories and perspective, it is a towering work of creative genius. I listened to it in two sittings and found it a deeply affecting tale of love won, lived and ultimately lost. If not a shattering observation on the entire human condition it is easily one of the most personal dissections of one person's story that I have ever heard. The story, the only story, being of his life's one great love. This is as heartbreaking and as 'real' as fiction can ever be.

3 people found this helpful

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not my favourite love story

It was wrongly recommended to me as "one of the most beautiful love stories of the XXI century". It is rather common love story even though it is well written and well performed. It contains some interesting statements and observations about love but most of the time it was just boring.

1 person found this helpful

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  • FrankstMal
  • 10-02-18

Barnes is superb as alway.

If you enjoy Julian Barnes’ writing as I do, you’ll enjoy this book. If your new to Barnes then I suggest you start with Sense of an Ending and then return to this.

2 people found this helpful