Thursday, 15 June 2017
#GreatestHits #LauraBarnett #Review
One day. Sixteen songs. The soundtrack of a lifetime...
Alone in her studio, Cass Wheeler is taking a journey back into her past. After a silence of ten years, the singer-songwriter is picking the sixteen tracks that have defined her - sixteen key moments in her life - for a uniquely personal Greatest Hits album.
In the course of this one day, both ordinary and extraordinary, the story of Cass's life emerges - a story of highs and lows, of music, friendship and ambition, of great love and great loss. But what prompted her to retreat all those years ago, and is there a way for her to make peace with her past?
Daughter. Mother. Singer. Lover. What are the memories that mean the most?
There will be so many people looking forward to reading this book after the success of Barnett's first book, The Versions of Us. I really enjoyed her debut novel and was delighted to be approved for an advanced copy of Greatest Hits by the publishers.
Again, Barnett plays imaginatively with her storyline. Although there are not the three "versions" to follow as in her first book, here she still plays with a multilayered narrative. Posing as a memoir, this is a fictional account of a singer-songwriter looking back on their life. Barnett has taken the form of something akin to "Desert Island Discs" and created her own mash up with Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. It's incredibly effective.
Once again, Barnett's gently, undulating novel that reads like a symphony of Cass's life would sound, shows her skill as a writer, the versatility of her writing. It also shows her tight control of story structure and how well she can manage plot lines and dual narratives.
Each chapter starts with a song title, the lyrics, the release date and other relevant details which any music fan will recognise as the established format for archiving music tracks. I really liked this -it's a clear focus, a defined beginning for each new chapter and an effective way to shape the story of someone's life in an imaginative and fresh way. It also gave the book a sense of authenticity and invited the reader to form a closer bond with Cass.
The chapters then allow Cass to talk about various different points in her life. Music is as evocative as smell - perhaps even more so, and has the ability to drag us back to a particular moment in time. Many of us will be able to quote the lyrics from songs we have not sung aloud to for twenty years. Barnett uses each chapter to move fluidly between the past and the present, helping Cass to make sense of her life so far and consider what it is that really defines her - or why particular memories are significant.
The writing is as lyrical as you would expect for a protagonist posing as a song writer - and there is no doubt of Barnett's beautiful use of imagery and description. I loved her use of a "coven of girls" in the playground and how where her mother left, is was like "an article torn from the pages of a magazine".
This is a reflective book, an absorbing read, a novel that uses the ups and downs of a musical crescendo to explore the highs and lows of a life. Although this is a very personal journey for Cass, it is one that the reader finds themselves drawn into. A great framework around which to build a novel about one person's life. It is sure to be as successful as her debut.
Greatest Hits is published by Orion on 15th June 2017.
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