Every now and again a book comes along that wows you with its richness; Greatest Hits is one such novel. There can’t be many people who don’t have a soundtrack to their lives, those songs that were the background to early years, the songs we fell in love to and those that we obsessively listened to as we attempt to mend wounded hearts; for many of us there is a tune that can turn back the years to a distant time and place. Laura Barnett has taken this idea and turned it into a densely woven story.
Cass Wheeler is a singer songwriter and Greatest Hits is the story of her life, exploring through her own lyrics the key events in her life from the earliest days with her decidedly less than maternal mother Margaret and her father, the local vicar Francis, who would read to her from adult books to sooth her to the woman she is now, reflecting on her years of silence, having turned her back on music. For Cass there were no songs left to write and no music to fill her days.
Greatest Hits is supported by a wonderful cast of characters who in turn support Cass through her life, most notably Aunt Lily and her assistant Kim. With any book spanning decades the links to the past are most important and in true reflection of real life we also see that some people are in our lives for brief amounts of time, but nonetheless have a huge impact as was the case with her childhood friend, Irene, and perhaps more importantly Irene’s mother who provided the mothering that was bereft from her own life. All of these different yet vivid characters provide the supporting acts to Cass’s story.
Each of the sixteen long chapters are headed up with one of the titles of the songs that Cass is compiling of the music that reflects her life. Below the title we have some lyrics from the songs as well as the fictional release date and other recording details. We therefore dive back to the early days and those memories, whilst in the present we have some clues as to the tragedy that struck Cass and led to her disappearing from her successful music career at its height in the 1970s to the withdrawing from life as well as music in the early 2000s. This layering of a story is exceptionally well done and Laura Barnett weaves the past and the present convincingly with the brightness of the triumphs with the depths of despair not forgetting those more mundane or mixed emotions which all of us experience.
Despite not being a famous singer, and not having spent my life penning songs or living in the lap of luxury and only being born as Cass was releasing her early music, Cass’s life felt like one I could have been part of, so evocative were the descriptions and so rich in both characters and writing style. This is a book to wallow in with a story that transports its reader to a time and place far away. For those who really want to get the full experience a soundtrack is being produced with Kathryn Williams performing the songs contained within the book to be released in conjunction with this novel. But even without the added interactive element Greatest Hits is in my opinion a triumphant second book to follow up to The Versions of Us which I also adored.
I’d like to thank the publisher Orion Publishing Group for allowing me to read an advance copy of Greatest Hits ahead of publication on 15 June 2017. This honest review is my thanks to them and the talented Laura Barnett for a fabulous read.