Article published on February 23, 2015.
It’s annoying when a book won’t let you give it up. You put it to one side and think, ‘Maybe I will read that later’, because you have more important things to do. And there it is, the next day, in your hands, wide-open, pulling you back in again, just not letting you go. I blame Laura Barnett because she has that enviable knack of laying out her story in a way you can’t resist.
However, Laura has actually made things more difficult for herself than perhaps she needed to – albeit to fulfill her title. We meet Eva, David and Jim at Cambridge in the late 1950s, Eva is David’s girlfriend and they are already in something of a dramatic setting that will become David’s full blown career. However, chance is thrown into the mix: Eva is cycling along the Backs, swerves to avoid a collision and her tyre encounters a rusty nail. Enter Jim who picks her up and dusts her down. At least that is version one because there are three versions of this story and from then on nothing is quite as it seems. What unfolds is almost a game of scissors, rock, paper, that schoolyard game of true chance. So on we go – triply – through the 60s and 70s right up until 2014.
This is an ambitious structure to tackle and there are times when it becomes confusing as to which combination of David and Eva and Eva and Jim, are actually at play. However, as I said, you don’t have much choice and you find the book in your hand again when you least expect it.
Laura Barnett is a writer, journalist and theatre critic; she has worked on the broadsheets and has obviously served her ‘apprenticeship’. As a first novel this is quite an accomplishment, especially given the complexity of what she has set out to do. I am reminded of the appeal of David Nichols’ One Day which many readers – including this one – found compulsive if, perhaps, a little of a guilty pleasure. No matter, I suspect you will hear more about this book as it approaches publication. Certainly worth checking out as it may well end up on your reading group’s short list.
Guy Pringle February 2015
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett is published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson price £12.99 in hardback on 28th May 2015
“You don’t have sex near unicorns.”