The Versions of Us
By Laura Barnett
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (28 May 2015)
What if you had said yes? The moments that change everything…
The Versions of Us is a love story told three ways. A young 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 lives.
Eva and Jim are nineteen and students at Cambridge when their paths first cross in 1958. There is also David, Eva's lover, an ambitious actor who loves Eva deeply but cares more about his own talent. The Versions of Us follows the three different courses their lives could take following this first chance meeting. Lives filled with love, betrayal and ambition, but through it all a deep connection that endures, whatever fate might throw at them.
The Versions of Us explores the idea that there are moments when our lives might have turned out differently, the tiny factors or decisions that could determine our fate, and the precarious nature of the foundations upon which we build our lives. It is also a story about the nature of love and how it grows, changes and evolves as we travel through life.
The Versions of Us gives you three very similar love stories for the price of one. Its underlying concept - how one simple decision or a turn of fate chooses the path you lead - has been explored before (e.g. the Sliding Doors film staring Gwyneth Paltrow). In this book, the three stories follow Eva and Jim (and their friends and family) over the next 60 years.
Each version of the story starts off in Cambridge, with 19-year-old Eva riding on her bike and then involved in an incident with a dog. From that moment, each version branches off in a different direction. Yet all three are inextricably linked. Clever little facts, such as relatives and friends, milestone parties, functions and events and clothing choices, give common threads throughout the different versions. It felt like spot the difference (or rather the similarities) when I noticed these.
Laura Barnett has a very descriptive way of writing and weaves emotions into her story with ease. The stories were very well planned and must have been a logistical nightmare to construct, making sure they all followed in unison, like three parallel rivers following similar twisting paths and all set to end at the same point. The characters were all very real and easy to relate to. I found that I liked some characters in one version and hated them in another, due to the tiny differences in the paths they took and choices they made.
I enjoyed all three versions. My only difficulty with the book was trying to keep track of people's relationships and all the children's names and ages in each version. I was very close to making a spreadsheet to help me keep track. Also, I found that sometimes the versions were out of sync, so version three was followed by version two, rather than version one, which confused me slightly. Every time I sat down to read more of the book, I had to have a quick recap in my mind.
Overall, The Versions of Us is an enjoyable well-written story with a satisfying ending that tied up all the loose ends. It's an emotional roller coaster and I read the last few pages with tears in my eyes.
I received an Advance Reader Copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.