What if you had said yes? Some moments change everything... 'Truly enthralling - I simply adored this wonderful novel' Jessie Burton, author of THE MINIATURIST
What if you had said yes . . . ?
Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future - together, and apart - as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day.
THE VERSIONS OF US is an outstanding debut novel about the choices we make and the different paths that our lives might follow. What if one small decision could change the rest of your life?
Truly enthralling - the spirit of THE VERSIONS OF US has lingered with me. The way Laura Barnett manages to weave together such detailed and compelling threads is extraordinary and she finds such poignancy in the everyday. I felt drawn in by the stories of Jim and Eva and the novel really got me thinking about all the lucky chances we get to start over, and how we live in a state of constant flux. I simply adored this wonderful novel. - JESSIE BURTON, author of THE MINIATURIST
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
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? VERSIONS OF US is both brilliant and astonishingly good. - Elizabeth Buchan, best-selling author of Consider the Lily
The girl-meets-boy premise, but played out in three what-if trajectories over 60 years. Eva and Jim's path cross at Cambridge University in 1958 when he bike wobbles to avoid hitting a dog. We follow as their lives spin out in three different ways, and so, inevitably, Sliding Doors comparisons kick in. But this is its own book; deep, sensitive and without a hint of commercial compromise. 'With the tripartite structure I had space to be reflective, quiet and emotional - all the things my favourite writers do' says Laura. Just lovely. - Sainsbury s Magazine
“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.
Laura Barnett was born in 1982 in south London. She studied Spanish and Italian at Cambridge University, and newspaper journalism at City University, London. As a freelance arts journalist, features writer and theatre critic, Laura has worked for the GUARDIAN, the OBSERVER and the DAILY TELEGRAPH amongst others.
THE VERSIONS OF US, her debut novel, was a no. 1 bestseller and has been translated into 23 languages.