Have you ever looked back on a moment in your life and wondered: what if?
What if your life isn’t destined to go a certain way? That one seemingly small moment could change everything? If you haven’t, this book certainly will spark those thoughts. The Versions of Us offers three alternative narratives, showing how one moment can change the course of your lives forever. For Eva and Jim, that moment starts with a bike ride and a nail in the road.
In version one, Eva’s bike goes over the nail and Jim, a passer-by, offers to fix it for her. When she meets Jim, she is faced with a decision: go with him, ultimately leave her boyfriend David and marry Jim. In version two, Eva’s bike misses the nail; she doesn’t meet Jim, and she carries on in her life and marries David. In version three, she meets Jim and instantly falls in love, but instead of following her heart, she tries to do what she thinks is right and ends up in a loveless marriage with David.
I can’t choose my favourite version. In each there is love, heartache, loss and happiness. Both Jim and Eva are successful in their careers, except, unfortunately, not in the same version. They marry each other and they marry others. There are affairs when they are together and affairs that bring them together. Each version runs parallel, running the same course, marked by chance meetings, events and death and yet, each version is completely different.
I have always believed that you can meet the right person at the wrong time. Someone you have the potential to fall madly in love with and yet, your lives aren’t ready to become intwined. And, because of this, I think my favourite version is the one where she doesn’t meet Jim and goes on to her unhappy marriage with David.
The third person narrative has you absolutely rooting for Jim and Eva as a couple, giving you insight into both of their thoughts and feelings. In version one, you fall in love with them as they do with each other and it absolutely devastates you when Jim betrays her. Even though in version two Eva suffers through her loveless marriage with David, she eventually re-marries to an older man named Ted and you can see how fulfilling and happy her new life has become. To me, Eva enduring her first marriage was worth it when she is adored by Ted. It is then when Ted, in his old age, gets gravely ill, needs to be cared for and eventually passes away, that Eva then eventually meets Jim. It is at this moment, that they are ready. They can love and appreciate each other, however short their time together might be. Both characters have had their successes, they have had love and they both have experienced loss.When their lives cross over in the other versions, neither are fulfilled and neither appreciate each other wholly.
In all versions Jim, in my opinion, is very unlikeable. He’s continually self-pitying and constantly believes the grass is greener elsewhere; in the bed’s of other women, mostly. I became so emotionally involved in each version, I just wanted the best for Eva. She was my favourite character and I was so disappointed when her marriage with Jim wasn’t as perfect as they thought it would be.
This book is a beautiful and elegant read that spans across Jim and Eva’s life time from young adults to an elderly pair. While the chop and change between different versions slowed the progress down, it wasn’t like anything I had ever read before. Watching these characters lives unfold before me and seeing how much of an impact one moment can make had me gripped. I absolutely could not put this book down. While no version has that fairytale ending we all hope for, they end with their characters having reconciled and at peace with their lives; each appreciating what they’ve been through and the efforts of others.
The novel’s concept and emotive characters are a credit to Barnett’s writing talent and I can’t wait to read more of her work.
‘Alicante: a city of dust and heat and unfinished skyscrapers.
This, at least, is how Jim imagines it: he has received only one postcard from Helena, sent soon after she moved to Spain. A tall, mud-coloured hotel of brutal ugliness; on the back, she had written, For Jim – because even the most hideous building here is lovelier than the home I shared with you. H.‘
‘He should not have left Helena. He should never have tried to go back in time, to the moment when he and Eva had their entire lives before them. He has gone against the natural law of things: the law that says you get one chance at happiness, with one person, and if it falls apart, you do not get that chance again.’