Tag Archives: Laura Barnett

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett

greatest hits

I really enjoyed Laura Barnett’s debut novel, The Versions of Us, and I was absolutely delighted when I was sent a copy of her follow up, Greatest Hits, ahead of its publication.

Greatest Hits features Cass Wheeler, a famous singer songwriter who withdrew from the public eye ten years ago, and who is now looking to release a very personal greatest hits album – not of the songs that were the most popular with her fans or of the tracks that sold the most, but the ones that were inspired by the key moments in her life:

Not, she’d said, the obvious songs – the label had put that record out long ago – but the songs that meant the most to her.  The songs that tracked the arc of a lifetime.

Over the course of a single day, Cass, alone, listens to her music, and reveals her story to the reader from her childhood to the current day.

The idea of a character revealing the highs and lows of their life isn’t a new one, but I really enjoyed Barnett’s unique approach to this type of story.  There are sixteen chapters, and each one starts with one of Cass’s songs, the lyrics for which have been written by Barnett in collaboration with acclaimed singer songwriter Kathryn Williams, and which will be released as a studio album to coincide with the publication of Greatest Hits.

The chapters are told in chronological order, and the reader sees Cass as a young girl, taking her first piano lessons, and how, as she grows up, she tries to make her way in the world of music where success is notoriously hard to come by whilst going through the key milestones of life such as love and marriage.  Cass’s life has many highs and lows, and whilst she is successful and realises her dreams, there are plenty of sour notes in her life.  It’s clear from the outset that she’s suffered a great tragedy in her life, although the reader doesn’t find out what this is until later in the novel.

I found Cass’s story to be incredibly compelling – the hints at the tragedy to come are intriguing, as is her decision to withdraw from the public eye, but I also found that Greatest Hits gave an insight into the life of a musician, with everything that entails.  I thought that Cass’s life, from living in relative squalor as she was starting out, touring small towns and trying to get a gig anywhere that would let her have a stage for a fraction of time was an accurate and realistic portrayal of the steps someone has to go through in order to “make it”.  This isn’t a Cinderella story of someone who is transformed into a star overnight, this is a story of hard work and elbow grease as Cass puts everything she has into her music.

Interspersed with Cass’s recollections of the past are snippets from her current day life, and I enjoyed this aspect of the novel too, albeit marginally less than the chapters looking back.  It felt a little as though Barnett was providing a little light relief between those chapters, as these interludes tended to be lighter in tone, even if they weren’t entirely happy either.  I’ll admit that I was always eager to get back to Cass’s past, however – I always wanted to know what happened next in her life.

Greatest Hits is quite different in style and tone to The Versions of Us, and shows that Barnett won’t be the sort of author that sticks to a tried and tested formula.  I absolutely loved Greatest Hits, and I expect it to be one of my books of the year

Greatest Hits is published today (15 June) by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.  Many thanks to Rebecca Gray for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ★★★★★

Holiday Reads

Hi!

I’ve been a bit quiet over the last week or so because I’ve been on holiday.  A week of lazing around in the sun (or shade, in my case), eating, drinking and reading.  And boy did I do a lot of those last three!

In choosing books to take on holiday, what do you go for?  The main factor for me is variety.  When I’m doing a lot of reading in a short space of time, I don’t want to feel like I’m reading the same book over and over.  For a similar reason, length also becomes more relevant than usual, as I don’t want to have to read a 1,000+ page epic in two sittings.  I want different voices, characters and settings.

Beyond that, anything goes!

Here are the books I read on my holiday.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight

Catherine finds a novel in her house and begins to read it.  As she does, she realises that it she is the main character, and that the book intends to uncover her darkest secret – something that she has shared with no one, and that she thought was buried in the past.

This is a psychological thriller, and the plot twists and turns throughout, playing with your sympathies.  It’s an easy read, and while it didn’t quite live up to the hype surrounding it, it was perfect holiday reading material.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Eva and Jim are students at Cambridge when the book opens.  Eva is cycling, and swerves to avoid a dog.  Jim, who is walking along the path at the time, will either help her, or not.  And from this seemingly innocuous opening, we see three different versions of their lives that stem from the choices they make.

This is an impressive debut novel, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.  It’s well structured, and jumps between the different versions of their lives, all of which have highs and lows.  And I think that’s what I like most about it – there is no fairy tale ending.  The choices we make all have ramifications, and what seems ideal may turn sour, or vice versa.

The Dead Lands by Benjamin Percy

This is set some 150 years after a virus has wiped out most of the human population.  In what we know as St Louis, survivors have built a walled city called Sanctuary.  There is nothing around Sanctuary, other than ruins and wasteland.  Life is not perfect, and the people make the best of the situation.  One day a stranger arrives, and tells of land to the west which is fertile, and of a potential new life without walls.  But can she be trusted?

This isn’t what many people consider to be a holiday read, but I enjoyed it.  This is a little bit different to much of the post-apocalyptic fiction out there, and has some unexpected little twists.  A great story with plenty of action.

The Well by Catherine Chanter

Ruth Ardingly and her family leave London to buy a farm and start a new life.  But whilst their fields are verdant and flourishing, their neighbours’ crops wither and die and the rest of Britain experiences a prolonged drought, with the only rain falling on the Ardingly’s newly acquired land.  Ruth and her family become increasingly isolated as the locals turn against them, and the government and reporters move in, and the paradise becoming a prison.

This was a wonderfully strange little novel that doesn’t quite fit into any genre – it’s a little bit dystopian (although the wider society isn’t focussed on), and a little bit ‘whodunnit’.  I personally thought that the eventual outcome was a little obvious, but I still enjoyed the journey.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

Kell is one of the few travellers who is able to travel between parallel Londons.  There is Grey London, which is our own; dirty and dark with very little magic.  There is Red London, where magic is revered and the people live in relative harmony.  White London, which is ruled by whoever is the most ruthless, and has little magic of it’s own.  And once there was a Black London, which no one speaks of now.  On his journeys between the different worlds, Kell is officially a messenger for the Red throne. But, he likes to do a little bit of smuggling on the side – trading pieces of other Londons to those who can’t travel there.  This seems like a harmless hobby, until he finds himself in the middle of a treacherous plot…

On the surface of it, this seems like a typical fantasy novel – magic, kings and queens and plots for the throne etc. and yet I found this to be a truly original novel.  The characters are wonderful, and the plot, which was a little slow to start, builds to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.  I believe that there may be future novels in this series, but I felt that everything was tied up satisfactorily in this novel, giving the option for standalone novels in the same world, perhaps.

So, they were my holiday reads – some fairly standard, others less so.  Now to plan my next holiday!