Six reasons why you should read The Versions Of Us

Posted on 24th January 2016 by Sally Campbell
Described as One Day meets Life After Life, this is a sharply original novel that spins three spiralling alternatives from small variances in the way two students meet.

1. The beginning of a whole new genre of Alternative Romance fiction

You have heard of alternative histories, books that explore ideas like: What if Hitler won WW2? or What if one of the Romanovs survived? Well, The Versions of Us is an alternate romance in that asks: “What if the romance between two students played out differently” (much like in the film Sliding Doors).  The finely crafted and cleverly plotted novel follows three, fully realised ‘What if’s, all the way through to their conclusion; as The Guardian puts it, in The Versions Of Us, “three love stories seamlessly intertwine”.  

2. Take a trip to Cambridge in the 1950’s

Secretly, we all want to ride on bicycles in Cambridge in the 1950’s. Eva and Jim are students in Cambridge when they first meet in 1958. Cue scene of tweedy boys and thoughtful girls all rolling around on vintage bicycles. We all love a novel that lets us travel in time to another era, better yet, one that lets us move through time to the (near) present, and this “triumphant debut” (The Telegraph) allows us to do both.

3. Travel the world in three lives

Eva and Jim meet in Cambridge, but over the course of the three stories in the book, the narrative travels through many cities. Reading The Versions Of Us, you get to vicariously visit historical versions of London, Bristol, New York, Cornwall, and Los Angeles, from the 1950’s to the present day – each in remarkable and evocative detail. The novel is a veritable Grand Tour for the armchair adventurer.

4. Three versions of people we know

The characterisation in this novel is pitch perfect. We all have known someone like ‘Eva’: who is brave, smart, and has a quiet dignity; we can all think of a ‘Jim’, someone who is impulsive, artistic and... well, more than a little flaky; and we can conjure up a ‘David’, someone we know who is egotistical, head-strong and successful. The beauty, and the appeal, of this novel is being able to watch these three character-types interact to (three) varying degrees, which is both insightful and entertaining.

5. Bizarre Love Triangle

Alright, the love triangle is not bizarre, it is more multi-dimensional in that it is explored beyond the realms of reality as we know it. But aside from mind-bending physics, the central story involves Eva, Jim and David. Yes, it is that age old scenario, often explored in French Cinema – the other lover. One is more loving, one more fun. How do you choose? Well, unlike most films that leave you guessing as to which would, in your eyes be, the ‘right’ decision – The Versions Of Us shows you what might happen if small decisions or events are altered and who then ends up with whom.

6. Superior technical achievement

All three storylines within this novel are not fanciful, they are naturalistic and brilliantly realised. They overlap but differ, depending on which small details turn out differently for Eva, Jim and David. The author cuts between the three strands seamlessly. Barnett’s technical achievement in pulling this off is astonishing, and all three stories are intriguing, moving and admirably wide in scope. Essentially, The Versions Of Us is bold in concept and solid in execution. 


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