Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

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This type of story, with its setup of having several versions of the same story caused by minor tweaks in the opening, has been seen many, many, many times before (most notably in the Gwyneth Paltrow fronted 1998 film ‘Sliding Doors’). But here it is used to far more interesting effect than most readers would probably predict. Instead of having a clich├ęd ridden ‘good’ and ‘bad’ version, the complex lives of these characters intertwine in the three separate versions, with both positive and negative consequences arising from the small changes to their first meeting. The various paths that (often star crossed) lovers Jim and Eva tread are also connected by various unifying plot points, coincidences and events, which add to the realism of the story as a whole. Connecting the various narratives in this way also adds a sense of realism, as readers will genuinely feel as if the stories are only different because of those all important changes in all three openings. The book also has a very nice writing style, with sharp clear prose fitting the story perfectly. Another near-perfect element is the way in which the author explores the way in which the changes in the narratives affect the book’s central couple as individuals, in addition to their lives as a couple, as this then allows them to develop as characters.

At the same time, the three versions can become very similar at times. As a result of this, along with the book’s 60 year timespan, the book can become quite confusing to read, as there are certain, rather frustrating, points where you have to continually remind yourself of which story you are in. This sense of confusion is also not helped by the authors’ tendency to drop readers straight into a chapter, slowly revealing the latest development in the characters’ lives. This can be effective at times, as the way in which the reader slowly comes to realise events can lead to them having a bigger impact, especially during the book’s more dramatic moments. But when it is used in chapter after chapter after chapter, it can get rather tedious to read. In addition to this, the book’s timespan can also be a problem. There are certain points, particularly in Version One, that could even be described as Soap-Opera esque, as the author desperately looks for events to pad the story out so that all the versions reach their conclusion at the same time.

However, overall the book does well with its concept and is enjoyable to read, in spite of some structural issues that can make it confusing at best and downright frustrating at worst.