Review | The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Dull, unlikeable characters three times over. 3/5 stars.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett book cover

The blurb: Some moments can change your life for ever. Have you ever wondered, what if…?

A man is walking down a country lane. A woman, cycling towards him, swerves to avoid a dog. On that moment, their future hinges. There are three possible outcomes, three small decisions that could determine the rest of their life.

Eva and Jim are nineteen and students at Cambridge when their paths first cross in 1958. And then there is David, Eva’s then-lover, an ambitious actor who loves Eva deeply. The Versions of Us follows the three different courses their lives could take following this first meeting. Lives filled with love, betrayal, ambition but through it all is a deep connection that endures whatever fate might throw at them.

My take:

I didn’t enjoy this. I found it deathly dull. The characters were insufferable, privileged, navel-gazing, upper-middle class moaners with few real problems (particularly Jim. Pull it together man!). I wouldn’t have minded so much had there been some humour or satire, but the characters are as po-faced as the book which takes itself very seriously.

Back when I reviewed The Night Circus, I criticized Morgenstern’s book for not being reader-friendly. I take it back. Compared to The Versions of Us, The Night Circus is as easy to read as The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

The Versions of Us presents us with three versions of the lives of Eva and Jim from the moment their paths cross in 1958 until 2014. Then the book cycles through the three versions – Version 1 chapter, Versions 2 chapter, Version 3 chapter, etc. Oh, and – just for a lark – sometimes a version is skipped. So it goes V1, V2, V3, V2… causing you to get totally lost. If you’re going to read this, make sure you have a physical copy so you can flick back or you have no hope of keeping up.

In each version things go differently, there are different characters, children have different names, and then (just in case you weren’t confused enough) certain events crop up in all versions. The chapters are short and I had a hard time remembering who everyone was or what the heck was going on. This wasn’t helped by the fact that, honestly, I didn’t care who anyone was or what was going on because it was all so boring.

I think the dullness comes – at least partly – from the startling lack of dialogue. Dialogue is great for many reasons, not only because it reveals character, but also because it adds life and sparkle to a book as well as speeding up the pace. Without dialogue this book becomes one long third-person narration all told at the same pace.

So why have I given the book 3 stars? I think simply because you have to recognize the tremendous amount of work the author has put into this. Keeping the three timelines straight must have been a nightmare. Not to mention all the research involved in writing a book which transcends more than 60 years. And, apart from the lack of dialogue, the writing is good.

Overall: if you find you can relate to the characters and keep up with the mind-bending version-switching, then borrow a physical copy of this from your library and give it a go. Everyone else: read The Night Circus.

Claire Huston / Art and Soul

29 thoughts on “Review | The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

  1. K, so aid seen the cover of this doing the rounds but had never really looked into it. I have to say that is some blurb and will probably take a goo at the ‘look inside’ on Amazon. Shame you didn’t enjoy:( On a different note: Hungry caterpillar. What a book- the power of greens, eh?;)

    Liked by 2 people

    • The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of my toddler’s current obsessions. We tried is a while back and he wasn’t interested but now he loves it!
      I can understand why there are many people who love this book. If you found the characters sympathetic it would be gripping. But if you don’t… uf! It’s hard going!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I know! It’s such a good idea for a book. I think I might have enjoyed it more if the characters had grown to be radically different people with very different lives in each of the versions. But they were pretty similar in all of them! And if you don’t like them… 😦 That said, many people have loved this book, so other opinions are available!


    • Definitely a good idea to get a physical copy.
      I do see why so many people think it’s brilliant. If you like the characters it would be so interesting to follow the different paths their lives take. And I’ll say it again, hats off to the author for all the work that went into this. Keeping all the stories straight must have been a nightmare!
      But for me – with this book as with all of them – once I’ve lost interest in the characters (or never have it in the first place), I just want to give up.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I nearly referenced Cloud Atlas in my review! I was going to say: more complicated than The Night Circus, but not quite as mind-bending as Cloud Atlas – haha! πŸ™‚
      I would encourage everyone to read the first few chapters. If you like the characters then I imagine you’ll enjoy the whole book. Lots of people have loved it, so it’s possibly just me πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I couldn’t get through Cloud Atlas, and this does sound similar. I don’t like having to try to hard when reading so I think i’ll give this one a miss. The three-way timeline thingy just seems too much!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not quite as bad as Cloud Atlas though! I think it and A Hundred Years of Solitude are pretty much on a level for “least reader-friendly books I’ve read”.
      Loads of people love this book. But I have so little sympathy for characters who have so much in their favour (money, a good education, a loving family) and then go and create their own problems and feel sorry for themselves.
      I’ve just come downstairs from reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar for about the 1000th time to my son and it’s still more fun than The Versions of Us! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s not quite as bad… but it’s getting that way! In fact, in some ways Cloud Atlas is a bit less confusing because each story is set in such a different place and time.
      I think the characters in The Version of Us are far easier to relate to but I just didn’t like them!


  3. All right, confirm not adding this to my TBR. I think everyone I follow was excited for the concept and then disappointed by the execution, and your comment about lack of dialogue definitely confirms that this is not the book for me.
    That’s okay – I’ve still got like a hundred books on my TBR already.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t notice the dialogue thing until about half way through. I’d been wondering why the book was dragging along quite so much for me when I realised it was all description, either of thoughts, action or exteriors. This is now quite unusual as I think books are becoming more dialogue-heavy for all of us who are now so used to film and TV that we expect it! (also because, when done well, it’s awesome!).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Like you said, dialogue furthers character development. Also, I love seeing the word games characters can play with each other when they communicate and it frustrates me when the plot would be resolved by people talking to each other.
        On further thought, I think having dialogue also falls into ‘show don’t tell’, from my point of view, at least, and every writing teacher I ever had beat that into my skull, so that might have something to do with it, too.

        Liked by 1 person

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  5. Great review. I think this will definitely be a hard pass from me. Personally I’m a huge fan of dialogue so if it’s lacking in that it’s not a book for me (I tend to skim long narratives and descriptions). Still have the Night Circus on my TBR pile. I may get to it someday πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!
      If you skim long narratives and descriptions (I do this too sometimes) you definitely want to avoid The Versions of Us. You’d have to skim the whole book! And you can’t afford to because you’d get lost in about 2 minutes πŸ™‚
      I agree about dialogue. Good dialogue is always one of the highlights of a book for me. I’m reading A Gathering of Shadows at the moment and some of the dialogues have made me laugh out loud – that’s the kind of thing I like!
      Reading The Versions of Us has given me a whole new appreciation for The Nigh Circus. I’m really really glad I gave it 4 stars now because it certainly deserves them πŸ™‚


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