The moment I heard of Laura Barnett's The Versions of Us, I knew I wanted to read it. Multiple versions of the same people, showing how their lives would be different if they'd made different choices? I'm always down for that! In one moment, two lives will be changed forever . . . and forever . . . and forever. The one thing that’s certain is they met on a Cambridge street by chance and felt a connection that would last a lifetime. But as for what happened next . . . They fell wildly in love, or went their separate ways. They kissed, or they thought better of it. They married soon after, or were together for a few weeks before splitting up. They grew distracted and disappointed with their daily lives together, or found solace together only after hard years spent apart.
With The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett has created a world as magical and affecting as those that captivated readers in One Day and Life After Life. It is a tale of possibilities and consequences that rings across the shifting decades, from the fifties, sixties, seventies, and on to the present, showing how even the smallest choices can define the course of our lives.
In concept, I love this novel. It has kind of a Sliding Doors vibe (a movie that I always think I like until I watch it again, and then I remember that it disappointed me) ... it follows Jim and Eva through three versions of their lives. They meet as college students, and from there, the three versions begin.
While I said I loved the concept of this novel, the execution is a bit lacking. (Kind of like Sliding Doors ... perhaps I should've taken that as a sign!) I struggled with two main things.
1. Jim and Eva are not particularly good or likable people. In fact, the only "version" of either character I liked was Version Two Eva ... who has a good, happy, stable relationship with a very sweet man. (In fact, Ted is probably my favorite character in the novel, though he gets very little page time.) Marriage vows don't really mean anything to either of them, and the infidelity (springing from extreme selfishness) is what bothered me the most.
2. The versions rotate by chapter (usually in chronological order, but not always), and each chapter is fairly short. So the reader will spend five pages with Version One Jim in, for example, 1965, followed by five pages with Version Two Eva in 1965, followed by seven pages with Version Three Jim & Eva in 1965. The short chapters don't really allow for the reader to "sink in" to the story and characters, and I had a terrible time keeping each version straight. Complicating matters further is the fact that several other characters span all versions, but there are always differences. For example, in one version Jim has a girl with his girlfriend Helena; in another version, their child is a boy. Had we spent more time in each version before moving to the next, I think I would have followed the stories better.
I almost gave up on The Versions of Us after about 100 pages for the reasons mentioned above. I decided to give it one more chance, and I do think it improved as it went on (though I always struggled to remember what was happening in each version). Eva especially became more likable the older she got. And I did appreciate the ending, but I wouldn't say that I enjoyed the book. This is an example of a concept that works better in theory than execution. 2 stars. Note: This book would probably be rated PG-13 for sexual content (talked about but never explicit). There are a few minor swear words and at least one use of Jesus' name as an expletive. Buy the book.
Laura Barnett is a writer, journalist and theatre critic. She has been on staff at the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, and is now a freelance arts journalist and features writer, working for the Guardian, the Observer and Time Out, as well as several other national newspapers and magazines. Laura was born in 1982 in south London, where she now lives with her husband. She studied Spanish and Italian at Cambridge University, and newspaper journalism at City University, London. Her first non-fiction book, Advice from the Players - a compendium of advice for actors - is published by Nick Hern Books. Laura has previously published short stories, for which she has won several awards. The Versions of Us is her first novel. Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this product free for review from Amazon.com through its Vine reviewer program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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