Review: The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

James Walton

James Walton reviews Laura Barnett's first novel, The Versions of Us.

The Synopsis

Eva and Jim are nineteen and students at Cambridge in 1958 when their paths first cross. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future—together, and apart—as their love story takes on different incarnations, twisting and turning to the conclusion in the present day.

Moving from 1950s Cambridge to present-day London, via New York, Cornwall, Paris, Rome and Los Angeles; from youth to old age, via thirtieth birthdays, children’s weddings, and all the fallout of failure and success, The Versions of Us is the—multiple—love story of one vivid, unconventional couple, and an examination of the different paths our own lives and loves might have taken.

 

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

The Versions of Us

(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99)

How would your life be if you hadn’t met the most important person in it—especially as the meeting may have been entirely accidental? This is the question posed by Laura Barnett’s first novel, which already looks set to become one of the summer’s big reads. In the first chapter, Eva bumps into her future husband Jim in 1958 when she punctures her bike tyre on a nail and he stops to help. In the second, she misses the nail and the meeting never takes place. In the third, the puncture, the meeting and the instant fondness all happen—but then Eva leaves Jim after discovering she’s pregnant by her existing boyfriend. And from there, the book alternates between the three stories to reveal the consequences.

The theme of alternative and unlived lives is certainly not uncommon. Barnett, though, tackles it with flair, tracking Eva and Jim all the way to 2014. She also avoids the idea that we only get one chance at happiness—instead, the pair have plenty to be happy about, and to regret, in all three versions.

 

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