Okay, get out some paper and a pencil. Have it next to you and start reading The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett. You’ll need to make notes for the first quarter of the book, to keep the various characters and stories in order. But then, enough is established to distinguish the stories and you’ll go with it, thinking ‘This is #ALLTHECLEVER’ (I think in hashtags and caps, don’t you?).
“A man is walking down a country lane. A woman, cycling towards him, swerves to avoid a dog. On that moment, their future hinges. There are three possible outcomes, three small decisions that could determine the rest of their life.”
Beginning in Cambridge in 1958, the story of Eva and Jim takes three different paths – they get together; they speak but then go their separate ways; they never meet. The stories then track Eva and Jim’s lives over the following decades.
“And then they walk away together, out of the allotted grooves of their afternoons and into the thickening shadows of evening; into the dim, liminal place where one path is taken, and another missed.”
The idea of a ‘single moment’ is incredibly seductive. For my own part, if I hadn’t sprained my ankle surfing (don’t ask), I wouldn’t have met my husband (I met him at a dance and I couldn’t actually dance because: ankle. He never dances and it was the first time that I had spent a whole night sitting, so really, jumping off my surfboard in stupidly shallow water was a good move).
I did question whether this book would have been better as three separate stories, read one after the other. Then I realised that no, it would not have been better, it would have just been a little easier. Because really, switching between stories allows you to pick up the subtle shifts in Eva and Jim’s emotional states. Helpfully, Barnett leaves the fates of the majority of the peripheral characters the same in each story, which again makes Eva and Jim’s reactions to particular events all the more interesting.
Quite simply, I enjoyed reading this book. If you want deeper thinking, there’s lots to do – the question of fate; self-image; how much our work defines us (or vice-versa), and what events really impact our lives (because it’s not necessarily the big things).
4/5 The story has been described as Sliding Doors meets One Day – that’s accurate (and I couldn’t do better), so if these appeal, I’m quite sure you’ll love The Versions of Us to bits.
I received my copy of The Versions of Us from the publisher, Hachette Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Jim and Eva picnic with “…wicker baskets filled with potted crab, pork pies, pasties, fat Greek olives and crumbling hunks of feta…”.