You know when you walk into Waterstones, or any book shop for that matter, and one cover jumps out at you instantly? That’s exactly what happened to me when I saw Laura Barnett’s The Versions Of Us last year. Being a poor student, I left the novel for the time being, promising myself I would definitely get a copy at some point. Guess what? I finally did.
The shame about waiting so long to read The Versions Of Us is that I built it up so much in my head that there was no way the novel would ever match up to the idea I had of it. I thought this book would change reading for me – it didn’t, but it was still an enjoyable read.
The story starts with a pivotal moment between the two protagonists, Jim and Eva, which dictates the rest of their lives. Barnett writes three versions of what could have happened to the pair and starts off keeping these versions in their numerical order. However, as the story progresses the versions flip so you might be reading version two, version three, then version two again. Plus, a version may follow Jim’s perspective at one time and Eva’s at another, and if the two of them are leading separate lives in that version it can become unrecognisable. What complicates matters more is when the family tree begins to form. It’s pretty simple to keep track of who Eva and Jim’s parents are, but their kids across the different versions with generic names get incredibly confusing. For a while Sarah and Sophie were the same person in my mind – oops.
That’s not to say that Barnett wasn’t successful in this novel – she must have poured her heart and soul into the intricacies of plot detail. I was particularly impressed by how consistent the characters remained; Barnett had a genuine grip on who these people were and because of this, so did I. From how Eva dealt with her pregnancy, to how she cared for Jim at the end, I was completely convinced by her character. This might have been because it felt as though every chapter in The Versions Of Us could have been a short story – there was so much detail compacted into tiny chapters that the writing style felt full, almost overflowing. These mini-stories work together to form a bigger and better overall picture. It will definitely be interesting to see how Barnett’s style is adapted in her future releases.
Overall, The Versions Of Us is an interesting, unique and pleasurable read. I’d recommend reading this book in long stints rather than short bursts as it’s too complex to dip in and out of. You need to dedicate yourself to it in order to truly appreciate it.
Jessikah Hope Stenson