The Versions of Us

Elena Seymenliyska in The Telegraph:

Paltrow_3317104bThe multiverse has gone from a far-out theory to a commonplace of physics. The idea that there are versions of us in parallel universes is not just handy in science, it’s also a perfect vehicle for fiction. In the film Sliding Doors (1998), Gwyneth Paltrow runs for a train: if she catches it, she’ll find love; if she misses it, she won’t. In Lionel Shrivers novel The Post-Birthday World (2007), the two storylines hinge on the question “Do you kiss the guy or not?” So Laura Barnett’s The Versions of Us is in good company, but what makes this debut novel stand out is that it offers not two but three possible narratives. It is 1958 and Eva is a second-year English student at Cambridge cycling to a supervision with her essay on T S Eliot’s Four Quartets in her satchel. In version one, her bike goes over a nail and a passer-by offers to fix it: this is Jim, a second-year law student, and the man Eva will leave her boyfriend to marry. In version two, Eva’s bike misses the nail; she doesn’t meet Jim, but goes on to marry that boyfriend, aspiring actor David. Version three has the puncture and the meeting with Jim, but this time Eva tries to do the right thing, ending up in a loveless marriage with David.

There is much overlap between the three versions. Eva is always wise, sensitive, dignified, like a character out of a Margaret Drabblenovel; Jim is always troubled, impulsive, artistic; and David is always superficial, egotistical, successful. What’s different is the central dynamic, dependent on whether Eva stays happily with Jim, or unhappily with David. Much of the appeal of the book comes in working out which story matches one’s own: are you a version one, two or three person?

More here.