Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett

I’m very keen on books that incorporate music into the story and I’m not fussy about the format it takes. Things I love: literary mix tapes; words put to song; songs put to words; and authors who include playlists in end-notes. So, of course I was going to read Laura Barnett’s latest, Greatest Hits.

Greatest Hits is a fictional memoir. Singer-songwriter Cass Wheeler reflects on her life by choosing sixteen tracks that define her. Each chapter begins with the lyrics to one of her songs, followed by Cass’s account of important events in her life. Cass’s childhood, in particular her relationship with her mother, sets the foundation for an interesting story, and it moves on to her troubled teen years, her discovery of music, her rise to fame, and her tumultuous relationship with fellow musician, Ivor.

The book is largely a character study, and the action is limited. Barnett has done a good job at creating a sense of time and place but there were elements of this book that didn’t work for me. Primarily, the suspense is protracted. The story is not chronological and the multitude of hints and teasers dotted throughout meant that by the end there were no surprises. In fact, the plot seemed overworked and devoid of emotion.

The childhood Barnett created for Cass gave her a rich platform for her story – so much of what happened with her parents could have lent itself to explaining Cass’s adult relationships. And yet, so much of ‘adult Cass’ seemed like it wasn’t anchored to these early experiences – a disconnect given that the book focuses on what defines us.

I also had the sense that Barnett had made Cass a little too ‘good’. Sure, there was teenage mischief, but after leaving home Cass manages to steer clear of the the bad behaviour and over-indulgence in drugs that came with her rock-and-roll lifestyle. While months on the road took their toll on the people around her, particularly on their relationships, Cass avoids most of it. Again, parts of the story that could have been charged with emotion, were oddly flat.

But here’s the really, really fabulous thing about this book: Barnett found a musician, Kathryn Williams, to record ‘Cass’s songs’. Barnett wrote the lyrics and left it to Williams to write the music and sing. You can hear the results here. It’s wonderful and I think Williams created Cass beautifully.

2.5/5 I probably made an unfair comparison to the brilliant The Versions of Us.

I received my copy of Greatest Hits from the publisher, Hachette Australia, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

As part of the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge, I’m comparing the Belfast summer and Melburnian winter. The results for the day I finished this book (June 22): Belfast 13°-16° and Melbourne 7°-14°.

Cass and Ivor dine on Eton Mess. I love Eton Mess.

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6 responses

    • I think so. Part of it was that Versions was so cleverly structured and I get the impression that she wanted a unique structure for this novel as well. She achieved it but at the cost of stringing out the suspense. I think it would have worked better if she’d told the story strictly chronologically, still using the songs – although that may not have been as complex, it would have shown the character’s emotional growth to greater advantage.

  1. Pingback: 20 Books of Summer (except that it’s winter) | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

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