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Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-01-11
- Reviewer: Staff
British journalist Barnett’s debut novel imagines the delicious prospect of romantic do-overs, cleverly negotiating the tricky and often dizzying terrain of three versions of first love. Eva and Jim first cross paths in 1958, and in “Version One,” aspiring writer Eva’s bike runs over a nail and law student Jim fixes it, with the pair falling instantly in love and marrying. In “Version Two,” Eva’s bike misses the nail, and she marries her actor boyfriend, David. “Version Three” starts similarly to the first version, but this time, Eva leaves Jim when she discovers she’s pregnant with David’s child. The stories and careers variously unfold across 50 years—the “Version Two” Eva and Jim finally meet in 1963 in New York—with parents aging, children growing up and moving on, spouses moving in and out, with Eva’s writing and Jim’s painting flourishing or withering depending on the version. The constants are love and death—and the portraits of Eva that Jim has drawn. In the first version, Eva views the one portrait as a “version of her. His version, or the version she once offered him.” In the second version, a 1977 triptych depicts “three couples. Three lives. Three possible versions,” a reminder of Jim’s declaration that “you were there with me all along.” In the third version, the painting feels like something Jim had long ago forgotten. Barnett’s evocative presentation is a masterly romantic study of love’s choices and consequences, leaving wide open just what constitutes a perfect ending. Agent: Sally Wofford-Girand, Union Literary. (May)
A split decision, a twist of fate
Each day is filled with hundreds of tiny choices: Will you take this route to work, or that one? Stop for coffee, or continue directly to the office? Speak to the stranger in front of you in line, or keep to yourself? Most of these decisions seem insignificant. But you never know when a moment will change the course of your life.
In The Versions of Us, a #1 bestseller in the U.K., debut novelist Laura Barnett explores the paths that branch from a central moment in Eva Edelstein’s and Jim Taylor’s lives. The pair meet in 1950s Cambridge, when a dog runs in front of Eva’s bicycle. Jim steps in to help, and their next moves will determine the rest of their lives.
At the time of their meeting, Eva is an aspiring writer involved with an actor, David, who is considered the prize among the university’s theater crowd. Jim is the son of a renowned, deceased painter, and a talented artist himself, but he’s set on pursuing a career as an attorney.
Barnett follows Eva and Jim over decades and through three versions of what could be. In the first, they fall in love; in the second, they say hello and continue on; in the third, Eva feels a connection to Jim but opts to stay with David. On each of these paths, their lives will again intersect.
Barnett masterfully pulls the reader through these alternating tales. Each option is compelling and believable. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned here: Regardless of the paths we choose, the people who are meant to be in our lives will find their way there.