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