This debut novel, due for publication on 4 June 2015, came onto my radar at the beginning of the year when author Laura Barnett was featured in The Guardian as one of its New Faces of Fiction 2015. The premise of her novel, 'The Versions of Us', sounded intriguing - three versions of two people's lives, one relationship in three different ways. I added it to my 2015 watch list and was therefore thrilled when publishers Orion sent me a NetGalley proof of the novel. I don't know about anyone else but I do find it a bit nerve-wracking reading something that I've been really looking forward to. There's always a worry that you won't enjoy the book as much as you'd hoped you would or that you've over-hyped it in your head. Fortunately, my worries were unfounded - 'The Versions of Us' was every bit as unique and interesting as I'd hoped it would be.
The premise is simple - Eva and Jim meet whilst at university at Cambridge in 1953. The seemingly small decisions taken that afternoon, and in subsequent meetings, alters the course of their lives and leads to three very different futures for them. Billed as 'Sliding Doors' meets 'One Day', the premise could be gimmicky but is handled with great skill so that you never lose track of each narrative or get confused as to which version of Eva and Jim you're following. I also really liked the fact that there is no one 'good' or 'bad' timeline - each version of Eva and Jim's lives has it's highs and lows and Laura Barnett cleverly uses this to play with reader expectations of 'happily ever after'. Without giving away any spoilers it's hard to say too much however I will say that my favourite 'version' of Eva and Jim ended up being the one I expected to like least!
I also liked Eva and Jim themselves. Laura Barnett has made them very rounded characters. Both of them have their flaws - sometimes the decisions that they make made me so mad! - but they remain likable throughout the various versions of their respective lives. And it was nice to see a 'relationship' novel that focuses as much upon the individual character's professional and personal lives as it does upon their romantic relationships and watching the development of the varying versions of Jim and Eva's professional careers was one of my favourite aspects of the novel.
I have to say that I raced through this book in a couple of days - each version alternates and Laura Barnett generally leaves you on a cliffhanger after each one, so it was really easy to get absorbed into the story. I can see fans of 'One Day' really enjoying this book for the characterisation and playful take on a relationship (although if you didn't get on with 'One Day', don't let this comparison put you off - I personally didn't enjoy David Nicholls' bestseller and yet I loved this!). I also think that fans of Kate Atkinson's 'Life After Life' will enjoy the way that 'The Versions of Us' plays around with timelines and narrative structure. A great addition to a summer TBR - and a perfect novel for those seeking a more 'literary' summer read to pop in their holiday suitcase - I hope that Laura Barnett's debut gets the attention it deserves. Highly recommended, this has been one of my favourite reads of the year so far so, if I've encouraged you to check the book out, 'Versions of Us' will be published by Orion on 4 June 2015. As always, let me know what you think in the comments below or tweet me @amyinstaffs with your thoughts.
Until next time, Happy Reading!