In brief: In 1958, Eva is riding her bicycle down a lane and swerves to miss a dog as Jim is walking the other way. There are three pathways this moment could follow, but how will each one change their lives?
The good: Love the alternate universe-Sliding Doors vibe – how can something so simple change lives so much?
The not-so-good: Very sad moments towards the end as I got attached to the characters.
Why I chose it: Received an eARC from Hachette Australia, bought the audiobook.
Duration: 12 hours 44 minutes (book is 328 pages)
Narrators: Claire Corbett, Daniel Weyman
Publisher: W & N (Hachette)
Setting: England and sometimes Europe
Rating: 9 out of 10
The road not taken in life is something that has always fascinated me. What if you went out instead of staying in – what would happen? If you chose this uni course instead of that one? If you said hi instead of looking away? Every day of our lives we make choices, but how do they change the big picture of love, career and family? Sometimes the big choice might not appear to be a life changing turning point, but it is for the main characters of The Versions of Us, Jim and Eva. In 1958, Eva is riding her bicycle down a lane, and swerves to miss a dog as Jim is walking towards her. The three different outcomes of this moment are then followed through their lives until the end. Which is the ‘correct’ one? That’s for the reader to decide but I guarantee this story will delight you as well causing you to brush away a few tears.
In the first of the three versions, Jim and Eva fall in love and get their happily ever after – or so it appears. In the second, Jim continues his law degree and Eva marries her boyfriend, actor David Katz. The third version starts off like the first, but circumstances prevent Jim and Eva’s lives from coming together (although you could say that Jim was happier in his career). Even though there are different choices made in each of the versions, there are parts of their lives that are constant across all three which made me feel more comfortable that there are some things that just can’t be changed in life. I also enjoyed how wildly Jim and Eva’s knowledge of each other was across the versions – in one, they are married; in another they barely know each other for the majority of their lives.
The story moves through the lives of Jim and Eva. Jim’s career path as a solicitor or artist depending on the version was quite a difference, as were the changes he made in later life. It was interesting to try to see if there was a common thread or personality trait that led him off the rails or if it was just the circumstances of that version of his life. Likewise, Eva has careers of differing success (but all along the lines of writing for a living) and it’s sometimes her career that leads her to life changing moments. A small thing I found fascinating was the names of Jim and Eva’s children. They were all completely different (which was probably needed to distinguish the versions apart) but how does someone choose a completely different name each time? I guess I’m thinking along the lines that people have a favourite name from childhood to call their children, but it mustn’t have been the case for Eva or Jim!
The story is told in alternating versions which some other reviews have mentioned can be difficult to follow. I listened to the audiobook, and I didn’t find this at all. I found that the different versions leant themselves well to the audio format. If I didn’t quite catch the version number (which I had running in my head – 1 is where they get together, 2 is where they don’t and so on), the title of the section and the first few lines were enough to lead to an aha! Moment where I realised where we were at. Kudos should also be given to the narrators, Claire Corbett and Daniel Weyman, who gave such meaning to the voices of Jim and Eva through pain and happiness. Laura Barnett’s writing is beautiful, making something special out of the highs and lows of everyday life. Both Jim and Eva are lovable characters (even if Jim, you do some very stupid things!) and I was genuinely interested in following their lives. It was like they were friends chatting in the car – I was so sorry to see them go and I must admit that I had to take a moment of time out at the end!
The story is a simple one made all the more interesting by the different versions – I was delighted and captivated by this story. Laura Barnett will also be a guest at the Perth Writers Festival on 20-21st February, so if you’re in town, please do stop by to listen!