The Versions of Us- Laura Barnett

This book has been compared to David Nicholls’ One Day, of which I was a massive fan, so, naturally, I had high hopes. Actually, when I began reading The Versions of Us, I was pleasantly surprised.

 

It has the same friendly tone, shot through with humour, as the novel it was likened to, which was charming and beckoned me to continue turning the pages. I also liked the different ‘versions’ of each chapter, which were, I initially thought, clearly not paying much attention, were told from the point of view of different characters involved. However, I quickly learned that the ‘versions’ soon became more than simply points of view.

 

The novel tells the story of Eva and Jim, both students at Cambridge. However, it tells their story in a way that I haven’t come across in a book before, and I can’t quite work out if I liked it, or if it confused me a little- even though, I suppose, it was clearly signposted on the page of each new chapter. The Versions of Us follows Eva and Jim and the three ways in which their lives could have turned out after their original meeting. Each version differs in terms of what happens and how the characters feel, but what is clear in all versions is the deep connection between the two, that really got to me as a reader, rooting for them the whole time.

 

What I liked about the novel is its recognition that everything we, or others around us, say or do, can have an effect on the way the rest of our day, week, year, life could turn out. This is something I always think about myself, about whether things would be different if one day I had just made that earlier tube, or if the queue hadn’t been quite so long in the supermarket, and I found it interesting to actually have been mapped out into words by Barnett.

 

The only downside to this type of narrative, is that they can become confusing, as the reader forgets who exists in which version and what the role might be in another. Because of this, I do think that reading this book in the physical form is the most useful as it allows you to quickly flick back to find out. Having said that, I suppose the inability to double check who characters are sort of adds to the excitement of the story and the sense of not knowing what might happen next.

 

On the subject of characters, some did feel a little flat, as if they needed to be in the story, but hadn’t properly been developed- Miriam, for example. However, I do suspect that this is more as a result of the style of narrative as opposed to any incapability on the author’s part, and that fully developing every character could have resulted in a very long book with even more complications.

 

Overall, I would recommend this as a sheer result of the narrative style, as it is very different to many novels I have read. In spite of the fact that I didn’t really become as involved in the plot, once again, probably out of the style, as I did with One Day, I did still care what was happening. I think that patience is definitely required if you are to read The Versions of Us, and you won’t be disappointed.

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