I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this thanks to the wonderful Sam Eades, and just in time for the paperback release making this book appear everywhere at the moment! I think it’s Waterstones Birmingham’s Book Club Book of The Week and on Richard and Judy’s Spring List for their WH Smith Book Club promotion, and lucky them to have it on their lists!
This book is right up my street: I love a ‘non-traditional’ narrative, and this is one in three concurrent timelines. Though the multiple timelines can be confusing at first, this narrative style is so engaging and compelling that the novel becomes three stories in one.
The novel tells three versions of Eva and Jim’s lives and how a split second determines the rest of their lives: one in which they meet and fall in love, one in which they don’t and lead almost separate lives, and one in which the former happens but an accidental pregnancy tears them apart.
This is the ultimate question: fate or chance? Were Eva and Jim always destined to be together or was it a pure coincidence of meeting on that day on the streets of Cambridge? The novel traverses almost 6 decades of their lives both together and apart and navigates just what kind of effect one person has on another. The novel will take you not only through time but through space as Jim and Eva’s narratives traverse the globe, which makes the novel a lot less insular than it could be in a romance about a couple told three ways.
Of course three narratives also offers three perspectives on the same two people. There are subtle differences between the Eva and the Jim of Versions One, Two and Three, making the argument for whether people do affect us in almost unnoticeable ways. Still, underneath it all, Eva is introverted, compelling and quietly strong and Jim is impulsive and loving, making their actions insightful and entertaining.
It is a thoroughly emotional read, something that I feel is almost guaranteed in a story that spans so many years – there will always be births and deaths in a 60 year story. But Barnett offers unexpected twists throughout the stories, which will both break your heart and make you smile.
Outside of the text itself, Barnett is an exceptionally skilled writer. I think it takes a very accomplished writer to be able to weave three narratives seamlessly together and tie them up in a way that actually, one doesn’t feel like one narrative was superior to another – though I’m sure we all have our preferred narrative. The Versions of Us is a highly captivating read with characters (even those that only appear in one narrative) that are beautifully developed and fleshed out.
For anyone who likes a love story, I would thoroughly recommend this book: it’s something that on paper seems quite simple – a love story three ways, though in practice is rather complex. Barnett manages this exceptionally well and creates a synonymously complicated and yet uncomplicated love story. For though there are other characters and lovers throughout the tale, this novel is undoubtedly, irrefutably, all about Eva and Jim.
The Versions of Us is published by the Weidenfeld & Nicholson imprint of Orion books, with both hardback and paperback out now.