Review: The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Some moments can change your life for ever. Have you ever wondered, what if...?

A man is walking down a country lane. A woman, cycling towards him, swerves to avoid a dog. On that moment, their future hinges. There are three possible outcomes, three small decisions that could determine the rest of their life.

Eva and Jim are nineteen and students at Cambridge when their paths first cross in 1958. And then there is David, Eva's then-lover, an ambitious actor who loves Eva deeply. The Versions of Us follows the three different courses their lives could take following this first meeting. Lives filled with love, betrayal, ambition but through it all is a deep connection that endures whatever fate might throw at them.

The Versions of Us explores the idea that there are moments when our lives might have turned out differently, the tiny factors or decisions that could determine our fate, and the precarious nature of the foundations upon which we build our lives. It is also a story about the nature of love and how it grows, changes and evolves as we go through the vagaries of life.

2015 seems to be the year of the debut - I've read so many amazing books by new authors already!

The premise of the plot of The Versions of Us immediately appealed to me - it definitely draws comparisons with the film Sliding Doors which I love. I like stories like this as they make me reflect on the 'what if' moments of my own life and wonder how different it could have been.

When Jim and Eva initially meet they seem destined for each other - Eva a bright English student, Jim the quintessential 1950s Cambridge boy. From their initial encounter on the Cambridge backs the three narratives take the pair in very different directions, yet there is always a connection between them somehow. I had a quote ringing in my head while I was reading this: 'if two people are meant to be together, eventually they'll find their way back.' Upon googling said quote just now I've discovered it was from the TV series Gossip Girl of all places, but it still seems apt for Eva and Jim.

The three strands of narrative are different enough to enable you to keep track of them, yet they are also all completely believable alternatives. It's especially interesting how specific events are dealt with across all three strands, such as birthday parties and funerals, as these allow you to really see how differently things could have turned out for Eva and Jim. It's hard to say which narrative I liked best, as none of them turn out the way you expect them to, and they are as full of unexpected twists and turns as life itself.

The characters too, are far from perfect - I found myself wanting to shake some sense into them many times throughout the course of the narratives. Eva and Jim are written as real people who make mistakes, they are far from the picture perfect fictional stereotypes, and although this makes a refreshing change, it also meant that I didn't like them all that much. The Versions of Us has been likened to David Nicholls' One Day, and I'm inclined to agree. However, I'm in the minority of people who actually didn't like One Day - I found Emma and Dexter impossible to care about. I much preferred The Versions of Us, but encountered the same problem with Eva and Jim - the book covers such a large time span that the characters mature and change so quickly that it's impossible to truly get to know them - but then I suppose this demonstrates just how much a person can change in a lifetime!

I'll also warn you that when children/grandchildren/nieces/siblings come onto the scene it becomes a little difficult keeping track of who's who across each of the three narratives and I had to look back occasionally to remind myself. I find it interesting that although Eva and Jim's lives are very different across the narratives, for the other characters their lives and partners etc. remain the same - but then again if everything was different then it really would be impossible to follow! 

The moral of the story is simply this: there is no such thing as the perfect life, and there is no such thing as the perfect person. Every choice you make has consequences, and every character has their flaws. As a whole, I really liked this novel. It's a very clever idea and is incredibly well written, especially for a debut. The writing style is just wonderful, and I can't wait to read more from Laura!

4/5 stars: Moving, thought-provoking and very cleverly written, The Versions of Us is a brilliant concept of a novel that will make you pause and reflect on your own life.

*Thanks to Rebecca Gray at W&N Fiction for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a review!*


  1. Hey Vicki :) I'm having a readalong over on my blog for the end of June, the book isn't too long and it'd be lovely if you could join in! Hope you are having a wonderful week!


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