Number of pages: 401
Laura Barnett's novel opens in 1958 with a chance meeting between the two main characters, Jim - an arts student - and Eva - an aspiring writer.
However, the story takes a Sliding Doors-type twist and shows three different parallel universe versions of what happens next.
So, in Version 1, Jim and Eva get married and appear to be living happily ever after.
In Version 2, they miss each other and continue with their lives; Eva marries a character called David and Jim eventually marries Helena, although they do end up randomly meeting each other.
In Version 3, they do meet but Eva ruins things by not showing up at a date, and they both marry the same people as in Version 2.
I liked the way that the book switched between the three different versions of reality to show how their lives panned out throughout the 20th century, and up to 2014, at times showing alternative versions of the same event. I had to get used to the narrative style, which was mostly in the present tense except when something was in flashback, when it switched to the past tense. I often get annoyed when a serious book for adults is written in the present tense, but I managed okay with this. Jim and Eva were characters that I cared about a lot, even when they made very stupid mistakes, and I wondered which, if any, of the three storylines would lead to a happy ending.
I also enjoyed how the book traced their careers and how they achieved their dreams related to painting and writing, and reading about the different children they had in different versions of the story.
As it happens...
[Spoiler (click to open)]
They all do.
My instinct was that in Version 1, things were going too smoothly, and that they would split up and things would not end well. My suspicions seemed right when they mentioned Jim having a one-night stand, and later on Eva doing the same thing, and later finding that Jim had an affair, leading to an ugly divorce.
In Version 2, both characters split from their partners and end up in second marriages, so it did seem unlikely that they would get together, especially as in this one they were least familiar with each other.
In Version 3 they split up from their partners, but end up with each other towards the end, so it felt like the most optimistic.
In the end, both versions lead to them together at a funeral, with Eva forgiving Jim in Version 1, and Jim agreeing to go off with Eva in Version 2, while in Version 3 they are already happily together. The three different parallel versions dovetail together into the finale that tells of them approaching the end of their lives.
This was a book that I'd meant to read for ages, and I was glad I did.
Next book: Secret Water (Arthur Ransome)