The Versions of Us, by Laura Barnett (2015, 2016)

The Versions of Us by Laura BarnettDebut author Laura Barnett takes the “what if” concept and spins it into a complicated triptych – three versions of the lives of Eva Edelstein and Jim Taylor. The two first cross paths (literally) as 19-year-olds in 1958 in England when a dog dashes toward Eva on her bicycle. In two versions she crashes and Jim helps her up; in one she avoids the collision and while their eyes meet, they don’t. Yet. The three stories slowly play out, with the same events (births, parties, art exhibitions, funerals) occurring at the right time in each version, but with very different plots. The book spans more than 50 years (70 if you include the prologue). In each version they are a couple, but at different points, for different lengths, and with various levels of happiness. I started out reading an e-book version but it expired before I could finish the 400 pages, and so I obtained a library copy for the rest. I’m glad I did – the print edition was a lot easier to flip through back and forth to keep track of which version I was reading. And that’s the problem with this book. At one point I had to use a mnemonic (Jim Ted David – JTD) to keep track of husbands in the three versions. It became a bit easier once children appeared with different names, but even so, the complexity detracts from the author’s intent. I loved Sliding Doors, the film that probably inspired this first-time writer, but I think such a device needs a more experienced writer, and the single note of Jim and Eva isn’t enough to carry the reader’s interest. Barnett stays focused on the primary couple and gives up potential plotlines that might have made the versions more interesting, and more memorable. I wanted to know more about Jim’s furious wife Helena (loved her!), and Eva’s parents Miriam and Jakob. For those looking to explore alternative personal histories, try Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. My thanks to publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the advance reading copy of the North American edition published this month, provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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