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Book Review

‘The Versions of Us’

6/1/2016

 

Laura Barnett’s first novel is an entertaining, thoughtful story about destiny and chance, possibilities and consequences, and roads not taken. With a cohesive style, it spans decades, offering three possible narratives that seamlessly flow into one another.

Her story begins with Eva and Jim, two students at Cambridge. Eva is an aspiring writer, and Jim has set aside his desire to paint in order to study law. Their paths cross in 1958 when Eva, bicycling to class, swerves to miss a dog in her path; Jim offers to help her. From this point, the alternating tales commence, their stories dependent upon what happens next.

In the first version, she accepts his help and feels an immediate connection to him that convinces her to skip class and have a drink with him. They fall in love, Eva leaves her self-absorbed boyfriend David and eventually marries Jim. In version two, Eva dismisses Jim’s offer to help — though their eyes meet and she feels certain she knows him — and she pedals on. She marries David, and Jim continues his law studies. Version three has Eva experiencing the same strong connection to Jim. She begins to see him, but, trying to do the right thing, cuts things off abruptly once she realizes she is pregnant with David’s child. She ends up in a young, failing marriage with David, and Jim goes on to have a successful career as an artist.

With short, alternating chapters, we follow Eva’s and Jim’s lives across about 50 years as their lives intersect regardless of the initial choice made when Evan was cycling to class. The story lines don’t diverge too far, so we see some of the same scenes — life events such as parties, birthdays, sicknesses, funerals — from the three perspectives. Some of the same characters move in and out of each version. Barnett challenges the reader to keep up as she shifts between stories, but the effort pays off. Her compelling debut is evocative in its suggestion that perhaps the smallest choices have consequences that affect the trajectory of life. CV

HIV

 

Fay Jones was born with a love of literature, which was finely shored up throughout her early years by her parents and a beloved children’s librarian who wore the thickest glasses ever manufactured. Ms. Jones once won a coupon for a free ice cream cone after her suggestion for a name for the local Reading Is Fundamental mascot was selected.

 

 

By Laura Barnett

Weidenfield & Nicholson

June 4, 2015

401 pp

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