The premise of this book is principally what would two lives look should a certain path not taken, a ‘sliding doors’ scenario. A good few years ago I read Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World which is a pretty bleak look at one woman’s life depending on whether she kisses a man, or not. The incident that kicks off the three different lives is a student falling off her bike whilst studying at Cambridge University in October 1958.
Eva meets, or doesn’t quite meet Jim following a swerve to miss a dog and getting a puncture in her bicycle, the scene is beautifully set and both characters are exceptionally well-drawn and realistic. The story isn’t just about the one moment though, different circumstances cause a whole chain of events which take us finally up to the present day where the story ends with three mirror images which beautifully rounded off an emotionally charged book.
This is billed as three love stories but to me it was far more than that – this is a book about all types of relationships, with mental illness, aging and illness featuring as well as the more joyful aspects of life such as good family bonds, successful careers and all those small celebratory moments that are shared with loved ones.
Each section is headed with Version One, Two or Three depending on the story being told along with the month and the year being depicted which are fortunately chronologically ordered. The complexity of the three intertwined stories featuring the same three main characters as well of course wider family in common meant that at each changeover point I had to do a mental recap of which story was which, this slowed my reading down but in a peculiar way it was refreshing to remind myself what each of the characters were doing before commencing reading.
It is hard to capture in words just how beautiful yet realistic the stories are covering everyday events as well as those bigger life-changing ones. At times the stories are incredibly sad but as the chapters are relatively short one version may be full of sadness whereas another has Eva or Jim having a more enjoyable life. With Eva a writer and Jim an artist this book is full of imagery most strikingly a painting entitled The Versions of Us.
With so many different lives to track over decades, this novel could easily have been an incomprehensible read but instead I could only marvel at the author’s prowess in constructing brilliant characters, a feel for each time period touched upon and allowing the reader to explore and wonder about the chance events that can change the course of lives.
The Versions of Us was published in May 2015 and released as a paperback in December of last year, I am so glad I bought a copy this is a book I think I will re-read at some point.