This novel is told in three parts: Version One, Version Two, and Version Three. Each version features Eva and Jim, two students at Cambridge in 1958. A chance encounter on a path goes three ways: Eva swerves to avoid a dog and gets a flat tire that Jim stops to repair--and the attraction is instant; Eva avoids the dog completely and doesn't get a flat tire--thereby not meeting Jim, who is just another person on the path; and the third version sees Eva and Jim meeting, but having a very short relationship that ends with Eva leaving Jim with just a letter goodbye.
Each version carries on from this fateful moment on the path, through the sixties, seventies, eighties, and up to 2012. In each version, Eva and Jim have many of the same people in their lives. In each version Eva either struggles to write, or is a successful writer, or comes into writing later in life. Jim is a lawyer, yearning to be an artist; in one version he's a well known painter; in another a man who never achieves much success; in another, a man who decides to follow his dream after struggling to do the right thing. Through each version of their lives, Eva and Jim continue to connect. Each is never far from the other's thoughts, even if they are geographically far apart, and with other partners.
I struggled a bit with following the three versions; I found myself thumbing back to the beginning to keep the stories straight; but eventually it really didn't matter. The powerful ending made it clear that no matter where life takes us, some people are meant to be in our lives. Whether we spend our whole lives with them, or meet them later in life; if they are meant to be in our lives, they will somehow connect. Love comes in many shades, and doesn't guarantee a happy ending. Life is a struggle, even when we are with those we love the most. I will admit I got a bit weepy at the end(s), but it was because I felt that I had been on such a journey with Eva and Jim. I spent decades with them and their stories.
This story reminded me of my relationship with my boyfriend. We met in our late 30's on a blind date, and have been together for 14 years. We talk sometimes about how we wish we'd met earlier in life--and how different our lives would be if we'd even met a few years earlier. For sure we would have gotten married and had children. By the time we'd met, he was past the stage of having kids, and life's challenges have kept us from taking the plunge and getting married. I can't imagine my life without him, but I can easily imagine a different life with him, if only we'd met just a bit earlier. We both can get a bit emotional thinking about it, and agree that we are lucky to have found each other when we did, and live the rest of our lives together, even if it is a bit unconventional. If anything, this novel will make you think "what if?"
Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing a review copy. This was a wonderful discovery and would make a good book club discussion. I'm glad I didn't miss it.
Rating: 8/10 for a romance that has three versions of happily ever after, and the journey to get to that place. A novel that will make you contemplate life.
Available in hardcover, e-book, and audio book. Available May 3rd at your local library or bookstore.