PARIS, June 6 — British writer Julian Barnes was awarded France’s Jean d’Ormesson prize yesterday for his novel, The Only Story, a powerful meditation on the wounds a first love can leave.
“First love fixes a life forever: this much I have discovered over the years,” Barnes, the most Francophile of English novelists, wrote in the book.
“It may overshadow subsequent loves; on the other hand, it can make them easier, better. Though sometimes, first love cauterises the heart, and all any searcher will find thereafter is scar tissue,” added Barnes, who lost his wife the literary agent Pat Kavanagh in 2008.
The Only Story returns to the theme of Barnes’ debut novel, Metroland, recounting the passion of a 19-year-old living in the London suburbs for an older and married tennis partner, Susan.
The novel was hailed by Heloise d’Ormesson, the daughter of the late French writer after whom the prize is named, for showing that “it is better to suffer for love than to not have loved at all”.
“My father adored Julian Barnes’ mind,” she told AFP, and both men shared a passion for the novelist Gustave Flaubert.
Indeed, Barnes’ novel Flaubert’s Parrot was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, an award he finally won at the fourth attempt in 2011 with The Sense of an Ending.
Barnes, 73 — the son of two French teachers — is only the second winner of the prize launched in 2018.
It is awarded every year to books which ‘Ormesson, who died in 2017 aged 92, would have loved.
The first was the Haitian novelist, Jacques Stephen Alexis, a communist who was almost certainly murdered by members of the Tonton Macoute militia loyal to the island’s dictator, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, in 1961. — AFP