The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett, published June 2015 by Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Read: October 2016
Genre: Adult Fiction/Romance/Contemporary
Get It Now: Wordery
Goodreads Synopsis: What if you had said yes? Some moments can change your life for ever. Have you ever wondered, what if…?
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.
Eva and Jim are 19 and students at Cambridge when their paths first cross in 1958. And then there is David, Eva’s then-lover, an ambitious actor who loves Eva deeply. The Versions of Us follows the three different courses their lives could take following this first meeting. Lives filled with love, betrayal, ambition, but through it all is a deep connection that endures whatever fate might throw at them.
The first point to make is that the cover of this book is delicious. Unfortunately, that’s where most of the deliciousness ends. I had such high hopes for this book. The premise is fantastic, but for me the execution really fell short.
As the blurb describes, the story revolves around the same main characters but it is told through three different life-paths, with each chapter alternating between story lines. The chapters weren’t adequately labelled or identified in any way to make it clear which life-path you were reading, and the timeline jumps back and forth between each. This made it really very confusing to read, and I spent most of my time trying to figure out which version I was currently reading. A bit of assistance here would have made all the difference. That being said, I think two story lines might have been enough for this book, the third didn’t add enough variety to justify it being included.
Part of me kind of enjoyed that the book was awfully cynical, and that all of the story lines had some form of negativity. It made it incredibly realistic, and made it read more like literary fiction. However, I assumed at least one story-line would be the “right” one, where the choices made would lead to a climax, or at least a vaguely more happy ending. In the end, I questioned the overall point of the novel. What was it trying to achieve? Ultimately, no matter which course of events occurred, things turned sour. It became hard work to trudge through, and there was rarely any light at the end of the tunnel.
One thing that remains consistent throughout the novel, is how much of an utter ass Jim is, which made me question Eva’s unwavering love, and their relationship in general. In none of the versions does he appear to be particularly appealing, which in turn meant I never really invested in their relationship, and didn’t really care what happened to any of the characters.
The novel read as unsentimental, unromantic, and pretty unpleasant for those who believe in “the one”, serendipity, or any other societal construct that makes you believe that anything can happen, that happy endings are possible, or that true love does exist. In not one of the three versions in this book did I feel much hope, in not one of them was Jim a nice person. While the book was beautifully written (probably the only reason I forced myself to finish it), I almost gave up at the halfway mark, but persevered as I’m still not very good at DNFing a book. In the end, I finished this book feeling deflated and unsatisfied.
“…he is old enough now to know happiness for what it is: brief and fleeting, not a state to strive for, to seek to live in, but to catch when it comes, and to hold on to for as long as you can.”
“You walked into my life when I was nineteen years old. You were the only man I ever loved – the only man I ever hope to love. You took everything we did together, everything we were to each other, and scorched it to nothing: left it a cloud of ash.”
“People bear loneliness every day. They think they won’t be able to, that they won’t survive, but somehow one second slips into another, becomes an hour, a day, a week, and they are still living. They are still alone, even in the middle of a crowd of people. Even with a partner, a child.”
Have you read The Versions of Us? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!