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 Seasons of My Mother by Marcia Gay Harden

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My Review:

In The Seasons of My Mother, Well known actress from stage and screen, Marcia Gay Harden, tells the story of her life in the context of memories she has with her mother. Their close relationship is so beautiful and all the more painful as her mother’s memory fades with the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease. Their mother-daughter bond is unbreakable and based on love, and due to the progression of the disease and the author’s fear that all would be forgotten, it became imperative that stories were recorded.

Remembering the past with family and friends is how we all stay connected, and I applaud Ms. Harden for writing this book honoring her mother, her wisdom, advise, strengths and hobbies in this loving tribute, so her mother can be known and connected to her children, grandchildren and those that come after, and the memories are never forgotten.

This memoir struck a chord with me because my father is living with dementia and although our situations are different, I know from experience, the disease hits hard, stealing memory little by little until there is no recollection of people, language, how to get dressed, how to eat, really anything at all…truly devastating for family and friends to see the person they know and love and not be recognized or acknowledged.

Marcia Gay Harden says “In this book, I do for my mother what she can no longer do. I remember.” I enjoyed getting a glimpse into Marcia Gay Harden’s life and background, and witnessing though stories their powerful mother-daughter relationship. I am a big fan and love her in the movie Pollock and on the TV series Code Black.

For another memoir about dementia, CLICK HERE.

Goodreads Summary

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About Marcia Gay Harden Courtesy of Wikipedia

 

Fractured Memories by Emily Page

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Fractured Memories:  Because Demented People need Love, Too by Emily Page.

Emily and her father were extremely close; they had a unique and special father-daughter relationship. In this brutally honest and real book Emily first tells us about her larger than life father in a way we can really get to know and love him as she did; a vibrant, talented and colorful guy. Next, she brings us on her journey as a devoted daughter, caregiver and decision maker as we learn about how dementia manifested in her dad and slowly took him. She bravely offers up her thoughts recorded in her journal during this time and includes her beautiful artwork which depicts her dad, his faltering state of mind, and their relationship as it changed. I laughed and cried through this book as it touched my heart.

If you know me you probably are aware that my father has been living with dementia for almost a decade and my incredibly strong and brave mother is his primary caregiver along with daytime, lifesaving in-home caregivers. Day to day living is consistently stressful and worrisome; riddled with questions where no answers exist and little support is available. The doctors don’t know enough, many caregivers lack proper experience or intuition, most friends and family don’t come around often, and every little household chore becomes a huge burden to tackle. More recently Alzheimer’s and dementia have been in the spotlight due to publicity from news about Pat Summit, Glen Campbell, Ronald Reagan and Robin Williams, but the media (tv, movies, and books) had yet to present to me anything that resembles truly what dementia entails and what my family has been enduring…until Fractured Memories: Because Demented PeopleNeed Love, Too.

 
Its not always as simple as the person with dementia gradually just forgetting things and becoming quiet. It is so much more and so much worse. It’s more like watching your loved one go from being strong, independent, creative and reasonable to not driving, not knowing what to do with a pencil, unable to complete a sentence. Keeping your loved one clean, dressed, safe, fed, distracted, nonviolent, happy and occupied uses up every bit of energy. And if you are lucky to sleep at night you can recharge to be ready to do it all over again the next day, but often sleep doesn’t come because of the worries about money, medications, living situations, proper help, the future…Emily Page offers advise and tips for caregivers, dementia facilities, and friends and family of dementia patients…so many tidbits I have wanted to scream from the rooftops myself! She has touched on just how difficult this disease is for the patient and the family.

 

If you know anyone with dementia or Alzheimer’s – if you are a loved one, a caregiver, a friend, acquaintance, nurse, hospital worker or volunteer, YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.
If you have lost someone due to dementia YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.
And even if you have no connection to anyone with this disease YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK.

 

Education and understand can only help lead to new medications and hopefully a cure or preventions and better training, facilities and care for the increased number of people who end up with this devastating and debilitating disease that effects entire families as well as the patient. Kudos to author and artist Emily Page for being honest and truthful in her book and her artwork, and loving and loyal to her wonderful father. May his memory be for a blessing.

 

 

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About the author as stated in Goodreads:

Emily Page is a professional artist and part-time writer. Working out of Raleigh, NC, Page spends most of her time elbow deep in paint, but comes up for air periodically to share her art and thoughts on her blog. She translated her ridiculous musings about her family’s journey through her father’s dementia into a book, Fractured Memories: Because Demented People Need Love, Too, available at http://shop.emilypageart.com/. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyPageArt23, and read her blog at https://emilypageart.net/.