One to look forward to: The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

By | April 18, 2015

What if you had said yes? The moments that change everything…

The Versions Of Us is a love story told three ways. A man is walking down a country lane. A woman, cycling towards him, swerves to avoid a dog. On that moment, their future hinges. There are three possible outcomes, three small decisions that could determine the rest of their life.

Eva and Jim are nineteen and students at Cambridge when their paths first cross in 1958. And then there is David, Eva’s then-lover, an ambitious actor who loves Eva deeply. The Versions of Us follows the three different courses their lives could take following this first meeting. Lives filled with love, betrayal, ambition but through it all is a deep connection that endures whatever fate might throw at them.

The Versions of Us explores the idea that there are moments when our lives might have turned out differently, the tiny factors or decisions that could determine our fate, and the precarious nature of the foundations upon which we build our lives. It is also a story about the nature of love and how it grows, changes and evolves as we travel through life.

The Versions Of Us by Laura Barnett is due for publication on 4th June by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in hardback and ebook formats: the publishers are calling it their biggest book of the year, the book the whole publishing industry wanted to buy. This week there was even the unprecedented news – before publication – that the television rights have been optioned by Trademark Films who are convinced it will make “a compelling television drama”. 

I very rarely read a book so far ahead of publication, and hardly ever review one. But I do like to publish my review straight away – while I’m still feeling everything I felt when I was reading the book – and I rather broke my own rules with this one when the publishers organised an online blogger event where the author was due to appear. So let’s not call this a review – let’s call it “one to look forward to” instead. Because having read the book, there’s no way I can’t talk about it.  In terms of structure, emotional impact, originality and sheer readability, I thought it was quite wonderful, and I can wholly understand why the publishers are so convinced that they’ve got something really special.

I can imagine there will be readers who will worry about this one – a love story told three ways, the three different courses their lives could take, a bit of a reading challenge maybe? I have to say I found it quite effortless – I’ve seen reviewers who’ve mentioned making notes to keep track, but I far preferred to throw myself in and trust the author. She has a wonderful touch – this whole book has the intricate texture of lace. Every divergence and convergence is meticulously planned, those life and (particularly) death events that can’t be escaped whichever path you take, the high and lows of every life. If the author planned this one out with post-it notes, it must have been an enormous wall. I’d love to ask her how she wrote it – story by story, or in that wonderfully organic way the reader approaches it. Hopefully I’ll get the chance nearer the release date.  

The whole book might not have been as mesmerising had Eva and Jim been less fascinating characters. I wasn’t a fan of David Nicholls’ One Day – comparisons are inevitably being made – but this is an infinitely broader canvas, a far longer timescale, more opportunity to flavour it with period detail, and quite crucially better developed characters giving the book a far greater emotional depth. 

I loved this book – you can tell, can’t you? But I know you’ll forget… so I promise to remind you nearer the publication date. You’re not going to want to miss this one…

My thanks to Rebecca Gray at Orion Books (W&N) for my advance reading copy.

Laura Barnett is a writer, journalist and theatre critic. She has been on staff at the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, and is now a freelance arts journalist and features writer, working for the Guardian, the Observer and Time Out, as well as several other national newspapers and magazines. 

Laura was born in 1982 in south London, where she now lives with her husband. She studied Spanish and Italian at Cambridge University, and newspaper journalism at City University, London. Her first non-fiction book, Advice from the Players – a compendium of advice for actors – is published by Nick Hern Books. Laura has previously published short stories, for which she has won several awards. The Versions of Us is her first novel.

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