First Love, Memories and How We Choose to Reflect on the Past in The Only Story by Julian Barnes

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My Review:

The Only Story by Julian Barnes is an introspective retrospective on a first love and how it shaped the narrator’s life.  I loved this thought provoking love story told many years later and the internal discussion about memories.

In part one, nineteen year old Paul is home from university for the summer and with his mother’s encouragement, he joins the local country club to play tennis.  He is partnered with Susan, a married woman old enough to be his mother.  Paul and Susan spend time together and as their lives intertwine, he meets Susan’s friend Joan, and Susan gets to know Paul’s college buddies.  Paul falls in love, Susan is attracted to him, and the unlikely couple begins an affair.  When their taboo relationship becomes public, they are kicked out of the country club.  Young Paul is energized by the public disapproval, and despite her marriage, albeit loveless, the two travel together, and they live together for over a decade. There was love and romance, and everything was so good.  This is how Paul wants to remember.

In part two Paul tells us all the things he remembers but would want to forget.  They had borders living with them in the attic, Susan’s husband punched him and on another occasion he smashed her teeth in.  Susan was an alcoholic and taking antidepressants.  The realities of life are revealed and author Julian Barnes switches narration from first person, to third person as he distances himself from intense feelings of lust and love to disappointments and heartbreak.

Susan and Paul’s non traditional relationship was a beautiful love affair and at the same time marred by lies, abuse and alcohol.  Paul discusses the idea that feeling less and lower expectations can protect you from too much emotion and hurt.  His happiness is based on Susan, but her happiness has nothing to do with him.  She is devoted to drinking and he takes that as rejection.

In the end,  Paul can’t stop Susan from drinking so he leaves her, but every time she needs him, he goes to her.  He is emotionally tethered and his love for her causes him to be angry and disgusted with himself, wondering if there is something to be said for feeling less.

The Only Story is a raw look at young love, memory and bias, and how over time you can gloss over difficult times to shape your memories.  I enjoyed the author’s retelling of Paul and his falling in love with an older woman, his all in full commitment and his naiveté, her baggage with her husband, children and her addictions, and how his love blinded him.  Romantic and sad with love, forgiveness and continual heartbreak, this story is thought provoking when it comes to how we look back at our lives and remember certain things.  Beautifully written and short in length, this is well worth the read.

An interview with Julian Barnes

Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Julian Patrick Barnes is a contemporary English writer of postmodernism in literature. He has been shortlisted three times for the Man Booker Prize— Flaubert’s Parrot (1984), England, England (1998), and Arthur & George (2005), and won the prize for The Sense of an Ending (2011). He has written crime fiction under the pseudonym Dan Kavanagh.

Following an education at the City of London School and Merton College, Oxford, he worked as a lexicographer for the Oxford English Dictionary. Subsequently, he worked as a literary editor and film critic. He now writes full-time. His brother, Jonathan Barnes, is a philosopher specialized in Ancient Philosophy.

He lived in London with his wife, the literary agent Pat Kavanagh, until her death on 20 October 2008.

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The blind leading the blind at a NYC psychiatric institution makes for unmatched psychological suspense in The Blind by A.F. Brady.

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My Review:

Therapists are supposed to have it together but in The Blind, Dr. Samantha James is not on solid ground.  Her love hate relationship with alcohol, abusive boyfriend and struggle with anxiety, are self destructive and cloud her judgement, while and at the same time she has fooled her colleagues and is the shining star therapist at the Manhattan psychiatric institution where she takes on all the most difficult patients.

When her boss is overloaded and reaches out for help, Sam goes the extra mile to help out with paperwork.  Things come to a head when she reads her own psych evaluation and she is faced with her personal demons that could impact her career.  At the same time, she is finally having a break through with Richard, her most difficult and mysterious patient who up until now has refused to talk.  Lines become blurred when this doctor – patient relationship method of communicating strays from tradition, secrets are unleashed, and the question becomes, “who is helping whom”?

The Blind is “on the edge of your seat” reading, the linear timeline is fast moving and easy to follow with character and background information slowly revealed amidst many shocking snippets of Sam’s crazy days and nights during a five month time span. Upsetting episodes of domestic violence, disturbing alcohol related binges and purges, tension filled sexual encounters and tender moments of friendship are peppered with Sam’s emotional instability and her continual struggles to hide reality, all under the illusion of a perfect life…wonderfully addictive!

I loved this book and can’t wait to read Alex Brady’s new novel, Once A Liar.

The main character, Dr. Samantha James has Borderline Personality Disorder and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 4 million people are diagnosed with BPD with around 75% of them, women.

Mental illnesses are not talked about as much as they could be, so enjoy this SHORT VIDEO with information about BPD.

One more thing….

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I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Alex (A.F.) Brady speak on a panel with Lynne Constantine, one of the sisters who wrote The Last Mrs. Parrish and the upcoming novel, The Last Time I Saw You, and Wendy Walker, author of Emma in the Night and her upcoming novel, The Night Before, moderated by comedian and life coach, Lisa Lampanelli.  According to the smart and witty Alex Brady, author and psychotherapist, it is POSSIBLE the characters she writes about MAY deal with similar issues and illnesses as her real life patients.  She enjoys the writing process, gets little sleep when working on a plot twist and has a wonderfully helpful husband who picks up the slack with their two little ones when she needs to put in the time to concentrate on her novels.  Alex appreciates a good, rugged cocktail, but be forewarned…you will be taking your chances if you offer her a Malibu Bay Breeze!

Goodreads Summary

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A.F. Brady is a New York State Licensed Mental Health Counselor/Psychotherapist. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Brown University and two Masters degrees in Psychological Counseling from Columbia University. She is a life-long New Yorker, and resides in Manhattan with her husband and their family. The Blind is her first novel.  Her most recent book, Once A Liar was released in Jan. 2019.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

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My Review:

LOVED THIS BOOK! The Great Alone is an epic story of love of family and love of home –  full of emotion with picturesque descriptions of the beautiful and dangerous Alaskan landscape and the depiction of a non traditional way of life. Powerful and heartbreaking, author Kristin Hannah tells the story of passionate yet struggling husband and wife, Ernt and Cora, and teenage daughter Leni in 1974, showing the capacity for endurance, tolerance, strength, and dedication to family.

When Ernt returns home after being a POW in Vietnam, he is not the same happy husband and father he once was.  Angry and on edge, privately suffering, he is continually searching for freedom, a new and peaceful place to call home with his supportive wife and young daughter.  A perfect opportunity arises and he impulsively moves his small family to a remote village in Alaska.  With no running water or electricity, wild animals and harsh weather, this new way of life is focused on survival, and with some reservations but with dedication and devotion, 13 year old Leni and her mom, Cora are supportive and go all in.  With support from the small, neighborly Alaskan community, they learn to hunt and live off the land and adapt to the challenging lifestyle in hopes of having a happy family life.

When the endless Alaskan summer days turn dark and frigid, Ernt’s PTSD is triggered and his anger and violent behavior put Leni and Cora in grave danger.  Living in isolation, with secrets and fear, mother and daughter must be physically and mentally strong and make some life changing decisions before it is too late.   The hopes for fresh beginnings and endless love turn to misguided obsessions and uncontrollable domestic violence, causing a whirlwind of emotions and making this an exceptional book.

If you loved The Nightingale, where Kristin Hannah shows us the strength of brave women risking their lives for others in the French Resistance in World War II, you will love The Great Alone, fiercely independent women who fight to survive, risking their lives for the love of family, community and each other.  A story of resilience, nature and human nature, this is a must read!

If you would like to read an incredible, true story about a girl who grew up in the mountains, CLICK HERE.

The Great Alone Goodreads Summary

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About the Author:

Kristin Hannah is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, which was named Goodreads Best Historical fiction novel for 2015 and won the coveted People’s Choice award for best fiction in the same year. Additionally, it was named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, iTunes, Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal, Paste, and The Week.

Kristin’s highly anticipated new release, The Great Alone, was published on February 6, 2018 (St. Martin’s Press). The novel, an epic love story and intimate family drama set in Alaska in the turbulent 1970’s is a daring, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival and the wildness that lives in both nature and man. It has been listed as one of the most anticipated novels of the year by The Seattle Times, Bustle.com, PopSugar, Working Mother, Southern Living, and Goodreads.

The Nightingale is currently in production at Tri Star, with award-winning director Michelle MacLaren set to direct. Home Front was optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to write, produce, and direct. Movie news on The Great Alone is coming soon.