The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett completely turns the concept of the novel on its head. Told in three different versions we learn the different paths Jim and Eva’s first meeting in Cambridge will take.
The pair meet in 1958 when Eva swerves on her bike to avoid a dog and Jim walking past witnesses the near collision. From here Barnett gives us three different versions of what happens next.
In version one the pair embark on a relationship which leads to marriage and children. Eva’s successful career has an impact on Jim who strives to be a renowned artist. He ‘settles’ for being a teacher. His lack of success affects him greatly and he turns to drink for comfort. The appointment of a new art teacher at the school changes both Jim and Eva’s world. Jim has an affair and leaves his wife for twenty plus years for the nineteen year old woman. Jim now in his fifties becomes a father again but the relationship quickly dissolves and he ends up alone. Eva never quite recovers from her husband’s infidelity.
Version two for me was the most interesting. After their initial meeting Eva and Jim’s lives continue to collide over the years due to mutual friends and colleagues. Eva marries David Katz, a theatre actor, who’s full of himself. Meanwhile Jim relocates to the artist’s paradise – St Ives and lives the ultimate hippy lifestyle. Here he meets his wife Helena and they have a child together. Eva’s marriage to David is marred by his huge ego and the pair separate. She then marries Ted who works in the media. His job takes them to Paris and Rome and their marriage is an extremely happy one. However Ted has numerous strokes and eventually dies. Throughout version two Eva and Jim meet at various parties and then at Eva’s brother’s funeral. There has always been something between the pair –quiet thoughts, letters to each other never sent – but when Jim tells Eva he has cancer she nurses him and the pair begin a relationship in their seventies.
In version three Eva is again married to David Katz and Jim to Helena but interestingly the pair begin an affair and eventually leave their partners. Again Eva and Jim’s relationship is a happy one and in each version you can’t help but feeling that Jim needs and yearns for Eva more than she does for him.
Each version of the novel is consecutive so version one, two and three tells the different side of events, rather than each version being in one big section. Part of me did think I should have read each version as a whole rather than reading it how it’s presented in the novel as it took me a good hundred pages to establish what was happening in each version. Just as I got my head around it the novel would move onto the next version.
For someone who is very traditional in my approach to choosing and reading novels this was very different and a nice change. Would I read more experimental novels such as this? Yes, but I would have to read about 50 linear novels in between.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
I thought I had read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings many moons ago however when I looked at its synopsis I realised that I hadn’t. As an English graduate I’m almost ashamed to admit it!
First published in 1969, it is one of seven (!) autobiographies by Maya Angelou. Set in the deep American South, Maya charts her childhood growing up with her brother Bailey and the struggle of being black in the segregated US.
She is brought up by her grandmother in Stamps, a black neighbourhood, where her family own a food store. Her religious grandmother is your stereotypical woman of the community; everyone loves her but knows she will not take rubbish from anyone. Maya and Bailey’s parents, who are separated, are frequent visitors in their life but no explanation is really given as to why they live with their grandmother.
The children do have spells of living with each parent. Maya’s first encounter of living with her mother is not the happiest – she struggles to adapt to life outside of a black neighbourhood and the white way of life. However she is in complete awe of her mother for having the confidence to move and live with white people and adapt to their way of life. But events take an awful turn when her mother’s boyfriend takes a shine to the eight year old Maya culminating in her being raped and hospitalised.
She returns to her grandmother’s care but as a result of her ordeal she refuses to speak to anyone at all. She does eventually start to communicate again but her whole childhood is affected by this event. She becomes worldly wise at such a young age as her innocence has been taken from her.
She continues to go back and forth between her parents and grandmother. Her father opens her eyes to a world outside of Stamps as she travels over the border to Mexico with him and connects with the people there realising they are a minority and ostracised just like she is. Her only constant in her childhood is her beloved Bailey but even his behaviour is shocking at times due to his sexual exploits as he grows into a man.
There were bits that I skimmed over but ultimately I did enjoy it. It’s an open and honest account of the awful and unjust treatment black people suffered at the hands of the whites.
P.S I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
I haven’t read any of your typical chick lit in aaages so I thought it was high time I read some. I have to admit I love zoning out and reading low-brow books – no taxing of the brain or wondering what on earth the author is trying to communicate to us.
I haven’t read a Cecelia Ahern book before and thought I best start off with one of her most famous novels P.S I love You.
I saw the film many moons ago and happened to see it was on TV last night when flicking through the channels. I forgot how cringey it was, from Hilary Swanks’ annoying face to Gerard Butler’s TERRIBLE Irish accent. Even the boyfriend who will be the first to admit couldn’t tell a Jamaican accent from an Indian one commented on Gerard’s failed attempt.
For those of you who haven’t read the book you will be pleased to know it is nothing like the film. In a nutshell Holly and Gerry are childhood sweethearts but when Gerry is diagnosed with a terminal tumour Holly has to come to terms with the fact that the man who she thought she would grow old with only has months to live. When the time comes Holly inevitably falls apart, doesn’t want to see anyone and can barely get of bed.
However Gerry knows Holly better than she knows herself and leaves her a note to open from him every month for the remaining year. It’s the only thing that gets Holly through the immediate future, knowing there is still a bit of Gerry on earth and wanting the best for her.
From asking Holly to clear his belongings, to making her have another go at karaoke, helping her find a job in advertising and even booking a girl’s holiday for her, Sharon and Denise in Lanzarote, Gerry is definitely a sweetie.
There were times when I wanted to shake Holly when she struggled to accept her Sharon’s pregnancy and Denise’s engagement as well as worrying about flirting with bar owner Daniel but it was real emotions of how anyone would feel if their soulmate died.
This is chick lit and its best. Now if you don’t mind I’m off to find some more Cecelia Ahern books…