Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

"The Versions of us" by Laura Barnett (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2015)

An episode in Cambridge, 1958 leads to 3 interleaved possible outcomes that share characters and come to similar endings. Some text is repeated too. One character paints a triptych with the same name as the book. Another writes novels and short stories about characters like those in this book. Character traits recur sometimes missing generations. Men tend to be unsuccessful. An early romance (or even moment) with a bohemian haunts the women's lives.

I ended up thinking several things that reviewers mentioned - it's interesting to see 50 years of a life described; the "Love of my Life" idea is over-done; too many stock characters and events; much of the writing is good.

Other reviews

  • Jenny Colgan (The Guardian) (it is an unusual and lovely thing to watch an entire romance develop across a novel, not just the fun early bits, or unpleasant midlife startings-over, or male midlife crises disguised as literary novels)
  • Elena Seymenliyska (The Telegraph) (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 Shriver’s novel The Post-Birthday World (2007), the two storylines hinge on the question “Do you kiss the guy or not?” ... a thoughtful, measured book about the interplay of chance and destiny in our lives. In addition to its original structure, the novel offers candid insights into the effects of status on love)
  • Sarah Gilmartin (Irish Times) (Barnett, who is also an arts journalist, displays control, intelligence and a refreshing unsentimentally about her characters and their pursuits. She flits through alternate worlds, challenging the reader to keep track of the different outcomes. Fast-paced and full of gossipy action – affairs, communes, suicide, drugs, birthday bashes – the book also entertains with its spirited side characters whose lives are equally affected by time and circumstance)
  • Max Liu (The Independent) (a good idea is cleverly executed ... 'The Versions of Us' is a confident debut. Why then does it feel insubstantial? It really comprises three short novels, which each attempt to capture lives in around 150 pages, so events are often skimmed ... At times, the title could be "the clichés of us" so predictable are the characters' trajectories.)
  • Kirkus reviews (Barnett, a British journalist writing her first novel about British journalist Eva trying to write her first novel, has a weakness for clichés and clunkers ... Those readers particularly fond of the one-true-love trope will overlook what cloys. Others will long for the superior sentences and searing London Blitz scenes in Kate Atkinson’s 'Life After Life', a much better multiverse novel)

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