Widely touted as “Sliding Doors meets One Day”, ‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett tells the story of Eva Edelstein and Jim Taylor who meet as undergraduates at Cambridge University in the late 1950s. Eva is injured in a cycling accident after swerving to avoid a dog and from this point onwards, there are three versions of their story. In one version, Eva and Jim start a relationship. In another version, Eva barely acknowledges Jim and marries her current boyfriend, David. In another version, Eva discovers she has fallen pregnant and cuts Jim out of her life to marry David.
The structure and premise of ‘The Versions of Us’ is a sort of hybrid of ‘The Post-Birthday World‘ by Lionel Shriver which explores two versions of Irina’s life and ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls which follows Emma and Dexter on July 15th every year for twenty years. The subtle coincidences and mirroring between the characters and events in the three strands is also reminiscent of ‘Life after Life‘ by Kate Atkinson and the structure is very sophisticated and skilfully woven together. Although it took a while for the three different versions to become properly distinctive in their own right, they are all remarkably consistent in quality and I didn’t prefer one over the others. There is no suggestion that one version is the “right” path. Just like real life, Eva and Jim’s fortunes fluctuate at different points of their lives and they are both believably flawed characters who make good and bad choices.
Although the unusual and complex structure of the book is likely to garner a lot of attention, there is also a real emotional heart to Eva and Jim’s stories. Crucially, I found myself rooting for Eva and Jim as individuals and not just as a couple across all versions of their story, regardless of whether they were together, alone or with other partners. I think this is what makes ‘The Versions of Us’ superior to a lot of chick lit which implies that there can only be one type of happy ending.
‘The Versions of Us’ is a remarkably accomplished debut novel and is sure to be a popular holiday read this summer. Barnett is certainly an author I will be watching with interest.
Many thanks to Orion Publishing Group for sending me a review copy via NetGalley. ‘The Versions of Us’ will be published in the UK on 28th May.