52 books in 1 year. Week 4-5, Book 4: ‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett

The Sliding Doors-style ‘what if’ scenarios of how one’s day-by-day routine choices and options can affect one’s entire life map have always fascinated me. What if I’d had different friends to the ones that I’d had at school? What if I hadn’t plucked up the courage, aged 16, to ask that girl to see a movie? What if I hadn’t walked into Vogue House and asked for a job? What if I hadn’t fallen in love with Spain? What if I hadn’t gone to Madrid, or returned to England, or then left for Barcelona again? What if I hadn’t walked into that bar and talked to that girl? So I thought I would enjoy ‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett much more than I actually did – with the settings of Cambridge, Suffolk, New York, London, Bristol, Paris and Cornwall, as well as the timescale (with the book starting in 1958 and ending in 2014), overlapping sufficiently with many possible ‘what if’ scenarios that I might have also experienced.

There is no doubt that Laura Barnett writes beautifully, and the book is very ‘clever’, but I struggled with it for various reasons. I didn’t find it a relaxing read at all, or a page-turner in the sense of turning the pages forwards, because I was constantly having to turn the pages backwards to pinpoint the differences in the three versions of the same love story. Two of the versions were simply too similar for me. In fact the only way I could keep reminding myself of the differences was to make notes on the names of the children who were born – but even that became confusing and almost illogical. I don’t think I am giving too much away by saying that a daughter called Sarah was born to the relationship between Eva and David in one version, or a daughter called Rebecca (and then also Sam) to Eva and Jim in another version; but then they call their daughter Jennifer in another version of Eva and Jim – whilst Jim also has a daughter called Sophie and a son called Dylan in the other versions. It is very difficult to ‘get lost’ in a book if you are having to compile a family tree spreadsheet at the same time – but I also felt that nothing really happened other than life’s natural cycles: love, marriage, kids, affairs, divorce, love rekindled or lost, job satisfaction or unhappiness, success or failure, divorce, ill health, death. I’d hoped that something else was going to happen other than all the ‘yearning’, but I didn’t feel it did. Eva, the main character, also seemed identical in the three versions (perhaps that was the intention) whilst Jim only differed when it suited the story (at least that’s how I saw it).

The book is a love story – well, three love stories, or three versions of the same love story – and I guess that type of book is not for me. I’m glad I read it, though – even if I spent most of the book imagining how the screenwriter will adapt it. I remember that Gwyneth Paltrow’s hair was a different colour in the two versions of her in Sliding Doors. Well, I think they’ll need a truckload of wigs for all the characters in ‘The Versions of Us’ …

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