Described as ‘One Day meets Sliding Doors’ – a book I love (and a film I vaguely remember enjoying) – I had high expectations for The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett and it didn’t disappoint.
Laura Barnett first introduces us to Eva Edelstein and Jim Taylor in 1958 as students at Cambridge University. Three stories stem from one fateful moment when they meet, or in one version, don’t meet. In the first version Eva rides her bike down a lane in Cambridge when a nail punctures her tyre and she falls. Passing by, Jim comes to her aid and they soon fall in love. In the second version Eva misses the nail and cycles on her way, not meeting Jim and staying with her budding-actor boyfriend David Katz. In the third version Eva and Jim meet in the same way but obstacles come in the way of their relationship from the outset.
The very slight changes in these almost identical encounters provide three very different outcomes and the journeys to get there beautifully illustrate the imperfections of life. Interlaced with missed chances, love and heartbreak, you can’t help but feel a part of Jim and Eva’s lives, both together and separately, throughout each version. We experience the highs and lows of their lives across nearly six decades and Laura Barnett poignantly captures the reality of relationships, growth and aging.
All three versions differ but there are several events in each which remain constant, highlighting that some things are destined to happen, regardless of the choices we make. It definitely leaves you considering how your life would be if you’d made different choices and gone down an alternative path.
Impressively structured, Laura Barnett does her best to make each version as easy to follow as possible. At times it’s tricky distinguishing the events of each story but as long as you have it clear in your head it’s simple to differentiate them. I couldn’t always remember who all the secondary characters are but it didn’t interfere with the flow of the narrative.
Despite their respective flaws, Jim and Eva are very likeable, and even more so as a couple. Their relationship, whatever stage it’s at, feels real and un-romanticised. However, the Romantic in me appreciated the fact that Eva and Jim are drawn together in each version, even when they don’t meet initially, but still in natural and believable circumstances.
Most of all I enjoyed the fantastic sense of place. From Cambridge, London and Cornwall to New York, Paris and Rome, Laura Barnett’s description of each setting is wonderfully atmospheric and makes you wish you could be transported there physically as well as mentally. The attention to detail when it comes to research, whether its popular culture in the 60’s or the London skyline in the 90’s, is meticulous and the transition from decade to decade is seamless.
The Versions of Us is such a brilliant debut from Laura Barnett, so good in fact I didn’t realise it was her first novel! I’m looking forward to reading more from Laura Barnett in the future and I won’t be surprised if The Versions of Us is turned into a fantastic British film. If you’ve read the book, let me know what you think in the comments below.