Richard and Judy Review: The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett

Richard and Judy Review: The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett

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"A rich, complex, and deeply satisfying novel."

Richard’s review

‘We were born to meet.

Were we? How many lovers convince themselves that Destiny has thrown them together? How many of us, reviewing our lives, decide that the subtle hand of Fate was at work?

Is there only one path through existence; one pre-ordained route we must tread? Or do we travel through the years taking a myriad choices at a myriad crossroads? Do we have a multiple set of possible lives, all dependent on a combination of random chance and random happenstance?

Laura Barnett has dived into this wonderful, churning pool of limitless possibilities and come up with one of the most engrossing novels either of us has read in years; The Versions of Us.

You need to think Sliding Doors (the Gwyneth Paltrow movie where the central characters entire life is determined by whether she makes it onto a tube train or not) or any number of books or articles predicated on the concept of parallel universes. Its all about what might have been, or what might be. Barnett juggles deftly between the twin gods of Chance and Destiny, and often the two intertwine. Eva, her central character, is a moving and believable guide through these existential universes, and your heart bleeds for her as you move through the gossamer-thin walls that separate her alternative lives.

Sensibly, Barnett keeps those alternate lives to just the three (otherwise, where would it end?) but thats more than enough. A rich, complex, and deeply satisfying novel.

"I liked Eva; shes introverted and self-contained but strong. Yet the smallest of decisions or events will utterly change her life, so how much power does she – or Jim, or David – really have over their shared destinies?"

Judy’s review

This is a story of what has been, what might have been, and what could be.

We find Eva, a university student, cycling on her way to a lecture. It is 1958. Her bike runs over a nail in the gutter and the tyre is punctured. A passer-by, Jim, offers to mend it. She falls in love with him, abandons her boyfriend, David, and marries Jim.

This is version one.

Version two. The bike narrowly misses the nail. Thus Eva and Jim just miss each other too. Eva marries David.

Version three. Evas bike hits the nail and Jim helps fix the puncture. But nevertheless Eva does the ‘right thing and faithfully marries her boyfriend. It will be a loveless union.

For the want of a nail… Laura Barnett has cleverly hung a series of alternative incarnations on that nail; they all depend on happenstance and/or moral judgement, and all beg questions. At the heart of them is this: in all her incarnations, Eva is going to be a successful writer. But how will that affect her relationship with Jim, doomed to be a failed artist? Or with David, destined to be an egotistic, vain, but successful actor? Which is the ‘right path for her to take? How can she best flourish with either man?

I liked Eva; shes introverted and self-contained but strong. Yet the smallest of decisions or events will utterly change her life, so how much power does she – or Jim, or David – really have over their shared destinies?

One of those books that will have you thinking long after youve turned out the bedside light.

Press reviews

Here are a selection of the reviews for The Versions of Us

"A clever, romantic debut.. Barnett tells three outcomes of the same affair, a simple, effective metaphor for the paths love itself can take you on, before winding up smartly in the present."

Grazia

"Summer Reading recommendation: I am 20 pages in and already hooked on Laura Barnett’s counterfactual THE VERSIONS OF US, which is a kind of literary Sliding Doors."

The Observer

"Summer Reading choice: an intriguing debut."

Sunday Times