The Versions of Us

versions of usPublished: 2015
Author: Laura Barnett

Brilliant debut looking at “what if?”


I’ve often wondered what would have happened with my life if I had attended the girls’ school that my mum wanted me to go to rather than the local comprehensive that I did. Would I have gone to college and met my best friend? Would I have studied law or medicine instead of politics? How would everything have turned out? It’s the actions that may at the time seem relatively minute that change our lives and it’s these different lives that Laura Barnett explores in her excellent debut novel The Versions of Us.

Eva and Jim are students at Cambridge University in 1958 when they have a chance encounter while sharing the same footpath. Three different narratives unfold simultaneously which see Eva and Jim variously fall in love and get married, only have a passing acquaintance or split up soon after starting a relationship. From 1958 to present day, we follow the couple’s lives together and apart.

I didn’t immediately fall in love with The Versions of Us – the quick changes between the three versions of Eva and Jim’s story threw me for the first few “rounds” and a couple of times I had to recheck which version I was actually reading as I got a little bit confused from time to time. This didn’t last too long though and once I got into the rhythm of the narrative I very much enjoyed the book.

Eva and Jim both felt very real to me, both are properly “human” in a way that many characters in love stories don’t. They are not perfect, they each have their flaws and both do things which don’t sit well with the reader but in each version of the story both remain fairly likeable and you always want them to find their own happy ending whether that is together or not. I was thoroughly invested in their story (stories) throughout the novel.

It’s a complex story which forces the reader to pay attention to the competing storylines and to experience differing emotions as the characters’ lives unfold. The central point of the story is that seemingly minor events can have huge repercussions and lead to different consequences, but these repercussions aren’t necessarily all good or all bad.

Barnett hasn’t made her depiction of Eva and Jim’s stories easy – there are benefits and drawbacks in each version and there’s no simple story which is the “ideal” for the protagonists. At first this disappointed me but the more I read, the more I realised that this was exactly right.

This is a fabulous debut and I can’t imagine that there will be many debut novels published that year that match The Versions of Us for ambition and heart.

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