Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sliding Doors

My late dad used to say that we are responsible for our own destiny and I am inclined to believe that to a large extent we must be  responsible for the choices we have made. We do not have a choice as to who our parents are nor can we choose our lineage. Everyone is born with certain genetic  and psychology makeup and thus we have to live within some limitations but these limitations or disadvantages should not stop us from making the best of what we are given and become who we want to be. 

In everyday life, we make decisions and  there are times when we  look back,  we wonder if we should have or could have made different ones. If I could be shown a movie of all the roads I had not taken and where they would have led me, I might or might not want to watch it. While many of our decisions are shaped by the environment we are in and our education,  I feel that it is our strengths, weaknesses, desires and flaws in our characters that have led us to the circumstances we land ourselves in.

The Versions of Us is Laura Barnett’s debut novel that works on the theme that there could be different versions of us that might lead to  alternate endings. The novel reads like three different novellas about the same protagonists. The novel is best read in one seating as it makes reading easier when the different versions simultaneously unfold the different paths taken by the protagonists , Eva Edelstein and Jim Taylor. When I read it in between my work and activities that need attention, I found myself revisiting the previous pages to refresh my memory in order to  get a clear view of the version I was reading as I swapped from one version to another .  Eva  and Jim Taylor are essentially the same people in all three versions. Eva is an easy to like character as she is sensible and strong. Eva becomes a writer while Jim is a solicitor turned painter and artist ;their stories began when they were nineteen and university students at Cambridge. 

In version one, as Eva swerves to miss a small dog, her bicyle hits a nail and the tyre is punctured. Jim passes by and offers to mend it and they fall in love. Eva breaks off with David, the boyfriend she has and marries Jim.

Later , Eva will think, If it hadn’t been for that rusty nail, Jim and I would never have met.

In version two,  Eva’s bike narrowly misses a dog which skitters towards her  and she is all shaken when she stops.  Jim asks if she is alright.

‘Are you all right there?’ Another man was approaching from the opposite direction : a boy, really , about her age, a college scarf looped loosely over his tweed jacket.

‘ Quite all right, thank you,’  she said primly. Their eyes met briefly as she remounted- his an uncommonly dark blue, framed by long, girlish lashes –for a second she was sure she knew him, so sure that she opened her mouth to frame a greeting . But then, just as quickly, she doubted herself , said nothing, and pedaled on. As soon as she arrived at Professor Farley’s rooms and began to read out her essay on the Four Quartets, the whole thing slipped from her mind. 

In version two, Eva marries David.

In version three, Eva’s bike hits the nail and Jim helps fix  the puncture. She ends up falling for Jim but she decides to do the right thing by marrying David, her boyfriend then. She subsequently finds herself unhappy in her marriage. On New Year’s Eve, David, an actor and Eva attend  a party  at the Hancock Park Home of David’s agent in Los Angeles.

Eva stands alone, drinking champagne, looking down at her hateful pink dress. She has an uncomfortable vision, suddenly, of her entire relationship with David as an unspooling sequence of these moments, a shifting film-strip of inappropriate dresses,worn to parties at which she knows no one.’

I have always been fascinated by themes about chance,coincidences and the big question of 'what if'. Are our lives  pre-ordained or the result of random meaningless encounters or serendipitous moments? Every decision and choice we have made maps  the course of our lives. Some moments  do change everything. Whatever knocks and hitches we face along the bumpy roads of life may or may not be the  consequences of our choices. We can only hope that these hiccups help us to become better people.

Barnett's debut novel cleverly explores the nature of love and the possibilities about how there might be some moments when our lives could have taken a different course. The author gives us three possible versions of what possibly happens in the future for the protagonists. click