The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
by Amy Pirt
It was as if she had been split into two, even three versions of herself – living, breathing simulacra – and lost sight of the original.
The Versions of Us has been called the new One Day. Well frankly – and don’t tell David Nicholls – I think it’s better than that. (Plus I have great hopes that it will be made into a great film, unlike One Day.)
I was very privileged to attend the launch for Barnett’s debut at Daunt Books. It was not only my first trip to this bookselling Mecca, but also the first time I had felt such a concentrated shock of love within one room for a book. There was a very fitting sense that this much-awaited novel, fought over at auction by so many publishers, had been a long time coming. (You will know what I mean by ‘fitting’ if you have read the book. If not, what are you waiting for?)
The novel, as you might have guessed, tells three different ‘Versions’ of a relationship. The ‘Us’ of the title is Cambridge students Eva and Jim, who meet by chance one day when a cycling Eva swerves to avoid a dog. Thereon in, Jim and Eva’s lives are in some way intertwined, whether as acquaintances, lovers or spouses.
What I found particularly clever, and what made the novel far more plausible, was Barnett’s easy way of incorporating events in more than one version of the story. For example, early on in the novel, in Version Two, Jim’s friend Peter tells him about a girl’s failed suicide attempt (she is saved by her ‘billowing’ skirts, which form a sort of ‘parachute’). Much later on, the same story is told again, only this time, Jim merely overhears it in the pub, and yet the man’s face is strangely familiar to Jim. This strange familiarity, or deja vu, which Jim experiences is something we have all felt at times, and emphasises just how true to life Barnett’s characters are.
My only quibble with The Versions of Us would be the concentration required to keep abreast of the three different versions. So do not read this too late at night!
It’s difficult to say much more about the novel without giving the plot (or plots) away. Suffice it to say, this is a truly sparkling debut, and the honesty and love within will break your heart not once, not twice, but thrice.
Many thanks to Rebecca Gray at Weidenfeld & Nicolson for the review copy.
There is an interview with Laura Barnett on the W H Smith blog which you may find interesting.