The Versions of Us: Book summary and reviews of The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

The Versions of Us

by Laura Barnett

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett X
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
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  • Published in USA  May 2016
    416 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

In one moment, two lives will be changed forever ... and forever ... and forever.

The one thing that's certain is they met on a Cambridge street by chance and felt a connection that would last a lifetime. But as for what happened next ... They fell wildly in love, or went their separate ways. They kissed, or they thought better of it. They married soon after, or were together for a few weeks before splitting up. They grew distracted and disappointed with their daily lives together, or found solace together only after hard years spent apart. 

With The Versions of Us, Laura Barnett has created a world as magical and affecting as those that captivated readers in One Day and Life After Life. It is a tale of possibilities and consequences that rings across the shifting decades, from the fifties, sixties, seventies, and on to the present, showing how even the smallest choices can define the course of our lives. 

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Reviews

Media Reviews

BookBrowse Review
Although the premise of exploring multiple possible outcomes from a simple moment is compelling, the actual events, and characters were far too ordinary to keep track of the changes. The different versions felt remarkably the same, despite the different choices made. I expected great romance and a big exploration of fate and destiny, but found neither.

Other Reviews
"Starred Review. Barnett's evocative presentation is a masterly romantic study of love's choices and consequences, leaving wide open just what constitutes a perfect ending."- Publishers Weekly

"...[T]his debut work, like three snowballs running downhill, gathers the old-fashioned Newtonian momentum of a good yarn. We see the consequences of small choices echoing through the years. Fans of the novel One Day and the movie Sliding Doors will want to pick up this debut." - Kirkus

"Truly enthralling - the spirit of The Versions of Us has lingered with me... I simply adored this wonderful novel." - Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist

"Where to begin? With the fluid and effortless prose? The poise and control of the author? The tenderness - but never sentimentality - which permeates the characterization? The cleverness of the plot device? The Versions of Us is both brilliant and astonishingly good." - Elizabeth Buchan, best-selling author of Consider the Lily

"I absolutely loved [The Versions of Us]. It's so elegantly and beautifully written ... I was equally enthralled by each of the three versions ... A really wonderful book." - Esther Freud, author of Lucky Break and Mr. Mac and Me

"A triumphant debut ... A thoughtful, measured book about the interplay of change and destiny in our lives. In addition to its original structure, the novel offers candid insights into the effects of status on love ... Barnett's willingness to look beyond romance to the mechanics of relationships bodes well for her career as a novelist." - Sunday Telegraph (UK)

"Its very scope is a joy, the technical achievement seamlessly done, and the ending- all the endings- suitably affecting." - Guardian (UK)

"Barnett renders an irresistible concept in sweet, cool prose - a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure book in which you don't have to choose." - Observer (UK)

"Like Kate Atkinson's Life After Life or the film Sliding Doors, The Versions of Us, a fine debut by Laura Barnett, offers multiple 'what ifs?' .... Involving and poignant." - Sunday Times (UK)

"Maeve Binchy's death left a gap in the market for stories simply told with no literary affectation. Barnett's promising first novel reads like early Binchy ... The tantalizing 'what if?' theme keeps all three stories going at a cracking pace. It is to her great credit that youthful Barnett invokes the power of love and loss among both the young and old with equal tenderness." - Daily Mail (UK)

"Big and ambitious - spanning decades, cities, and countries - The Versions of Us is also an intricate, intimate book ... a story of romantic love, but also a story of family ... All three versions of Eva's and Jim's lives could work as stand-alone stories, but together they work magnificently." - Bookseller (UK)

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

a brilliant debut novel
“Jim, looking back at his lovely, handsome son….had felt so full of pride and love that for a moment he’d been unable to speak. And so he’d simply slung his arm around Dylan’s shoulders, thinking that he’d never expected things to turn out like this; but then he’d lived long enough to understand the futility of expecting anything at all”

Cambridge, 1958: trying to avoid a small white dog on the path, a young woman swerves her bicycle and ends up with a puncture. A young man notes her plight and offers to help. After some conversation and consideration, they head for his room together to effect the repair. But what if she manages, narrowly, to avoid the dog and the puncture, and curtly dismisses the young man’s concerned "Are you alright there”? Or what if she falls off the bike, twists her ankle, the young man offers to help, and convinces her to skip class and come to the pub? For university students Eva Edelstein and Jim Taylor, three almost identical encounters with three different outcomes.

Where some authors might tentatively explore the “what if” scenario, Barnett executes her exploration with an elegant finesse that belies her status as a first-time author. There are three distinct timelines, each clearly marked, running in parallel throughout the book. In three separate stories, the reader observes Jim and Eva forming relationships (not necessarily with each other) and experiencing the highs and lows of everyday life.

Each chapter updates the reader on their lives at a certain time (alone or together, depending on the version and the narrator), thus covering almost sixty years. In each version there are many common elements: friends, acquaintances and family members are the same, as are mostly their character and personal details; children necessarily differ as they are begotten at different times and to different couples; incidents, anecdotes, certain themes and occasionally whole conversations occur in most or all versions. All of this gives the reader insight into emotions experienced and choices made.

Barnett’s characters are appealing: the reader easily shares their hopes, their joys and sorrows, and is occasionally dismayed by their poor behaviour. The storylines are all wholly believable: events in their lives are what happen to us all. Barnett manages to effortlessly locate her stories in place and time with the seamless inclusion of the topical: news, fashion, music, literature, popular culture.

Barnett’s writing, her themes, her characters and her style are very reminiscent of that of David Nicholls, and perhaps Anne Tyler and Kate Atkinson (Life After Life). While it can be a bit challenging to keep the three versions (with so much in common) distinct while reading, taking notes does help, and the beautiful descriptive prose more than makes up for any inconvenience.
"He stands for a moment before opening the studio door, looking down at the beach, flooded with a disorientating happiness; and he savours it, drinks it in, because he is old enough now to know happiness for what it is: brief and fleeting, not a state to strive for, to seek to live in, but to catch when it comes, and hold on to for as long as you can".

“…Jim doesn’t care: he is thinking only about when he will see Eva again. For all the years he has spent without her are dulling now, losing their shape and colour – as if he were sleepwalking through them, and has only just remembered what it is to be fully awake” are just a few examples of this. This is a brilliant debut, and fans of this style will look for more from Laura Barnett. 4.5 stars.

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Author Information

Laura Barnett

Laura Barnett is a writer, journalist, and theatre critic. She has been on staff at the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, and is now a freelance arts journalist and features writer, working for the Guardian, the Observer and Time Out London, as well as several other national newspapers and magazines. The Versions of Us is her first novel. She lives in London.

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