The Versions of Us wasn’t like any other novels I had read before. The story is that of Eva and Jim’s lives, from their days at Cambridge University, but it isn’t just the one story. This book tells you three parallel stories, all starting from the same day when Eva and Jim first cross paths. Reading this was unlike any other reading experience, and the book really makes you think about all of the different possible routes that your life could take, even if it was a bit confusing at times.
The three stories in this novel start at the same place. Jim is walking through Cambridge, Eva is cycling through. She swerves and loses her balance. In one, Eva and Jim meet and fall in love, in another, they miss each other and go on in their separate paths, and the third is an unlucky mix of the two. Each of the three stories shows Eva and Jim’s lives after that initial moment. They marry; they live happily; they break up; they have children; they marry other people; they become successful; they fail to achieve their dreams; they suffer tragedies; they travel the world. This novel is an exploration of life, of missed chances, of fate, and of love. Can two people be ‘meant for each other’? Is it possible that you will somehow find your way to the person you are supposed to be with? Or is everything just a result of your choices, and of things that weren’t your choice to make?
The stories themselves are not extraordinary. These are the lives of ordinary people, doing ordinary things, but that is what makes this novel so wonderful. It really made me think about all of the little choices you make everyday. Just as in one story, Eva suffers a punctured tire that Jim helps her to fix, but in another, misses the nail completely and keeps cycling past, it makes you think, what if I had gotten an earlier train this morning, or crossed the road one block later? The fact that the lives are so realistic means that you can relate to the stories. At times, it felt a bit like I was just reading about ordinary events and it was almost too real, like there was no escapism or excitement in the novel, especially in the parts where the characters are stuck in pretty awful situations or tough parts of their lives, but this really was a book of ups and downs, trumps and losses.
I felt so many emotions reading this book. I felt excitement at the things that were happening in Eva and Jim’s (and everyone else’s) lives, I felt anger at their choices, frustration and the things they couldn’t help, pity for the things that happened to them. I loved that none of the three stories can be described as ‘the happy story’ or ‘the one where everything goes wrong.’ In each story, Eva and Jim are thrown together, pulled apart, and it means that, although you’re hoping that they make the choices that you want them to make, you’re also stuck with this feeling of hopelessness when you realise that there are some things in life that you can’t control.
At times, particularly as the stories develop and grow more and more complex, with more and more characters and events to remember, The Versions of Us can be quite confusing. There were times when I would have to flick back to remember which of the stories I was reading, but I found this to only be a small issue. I enjoyed reading the stories and finding out what would happen next way too much to let it bother me too much. You might have to push through some parts of the book that are perhaps more challenging to understand, or bits that just dampen the mood, but if you finish, I’m sure you’ll find this book to be a rewarding and fun experience that really makes you think about life. Not only your life, but all the other possible lives that could be.