Laura Barnett: Greatest Hits
Published By: W &N
Buy it here
What the Blurb Says:
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?
What I Say:
I had heard so many good things about this book before I had even had the chance to read it, and was looking forward to finally getting my hands on it!
I picked up my copy from Wendover Library (there are some of the loveliest librarians I have ever met there!), but at first they looked for a CD I have reserved until I had to explain it really was a book I was expecting!
The premise of Greatest Hits seems very simple. Cass Wheeler, a renowned singer-songwriter has taken a career break after a life changing event. Cass, and those around her, decide that the time is right for her comeback, so over one day, she decides to pick sixteen tracks that define her and her life. These tracks will then form the basis of her comeback album, and will premiere at the party she is holiding at her home that evening.
However, Greatest Hits is so much more than that too.
As we move through the day, this opens up the chapters in Cass’ life too. Cass remembers how her mother left her and her father for another man, how Cass’ father who is a vicar gradually descends into pain and despair, although his love for her is never in doubt. He recedes into his own private pain, leaving Cass left to her own devices as she looks for someone to guide her through her childhood.
Realising he is unable to cope, Cass’ father decides to send her to live with her Aunt Lily and Uncle John. As well as giving Cass the stability and creative environment she yearns for, they also nurture her musical talent on the guitar.
Ivor, who is a friend of Lily and John walks in to Cass’ life, and from that moment on their lives are inextricably linked, as their passion for music and each other draws them together. Ivor and Cass decide to start playing together professionally in a group and soon Cass is spotted by a record label scout. It becomes apparent that Cass is seen as the major talent, and the record label want Cass to be the main focus of the deal.
As Cass selects the songs that define her life, we are drawn further into her world. The tempestuous relationship she has with Ivor is both her strength and her weakness. They love each other completely and absolutely, but their relationship is marred by Ivor’s increasing dependence on alcohol. Cass and Ivor have a daughter called Anna, who starts to witness the ever growing hostility between her parents, and after a violent incident, Cass makes the monumentous decision to leave Ivor.
Anna shuttles between her parents as they eventually divorce, and her health declines as she tries to come to terms with the state of her parents relationship. Anna tries to communicate her pain to her parents, and her love for art becomes the medium through which she tries to articulate her emotions. There is a particularly succinct but beautiful scene which takes place at Anna’s art installation, as her parents experience her life through their eyes, it is sparsely described, but yet expresses everything Anna feels about her place in their world in one short snapshot.
Soon after, an event happens that sends Ivor into freefall, and although Cass attempts to carry on with her life as before, it soon becomes clear that she is barely functioning and spirals into her own decline. As Cass moves through her tracks, her day and her life, we see how she finally discovers the courage to have the belief in her creativity again and she starts to heal. Slowly she discovers her own voice, one not influenced by Ivor or her own self induced limitations. Cass allows herself to fall in love again with an artist called Larry, but she tests his love and pushes him away as he attempts to move forward with their relationship.
I found this book impossible to put down, Cass’ story will draw you in and keep you enthralled right until the last page. I loved this book because I feel at the heart of the book is a woman searching for a sense of self and and a place of peace. The idea that in spite of everything Cass has endured, she can put her past to rest, and learn to love life, music and performing once again.
Greatest Hits is so much more than a fictional biography of Cass Wheeler. It encompasses life, love, death, grief and the always present power of music. The novel is wide ranging and encompasses different decades and attitudes. It is also a novel of relationships – between men and women, mothers and daughters, parents and children and of how women are perceived in society.
Ultimately Greatest Hits is a novel which will resonate with you long after you have read it, and is one I will be endlessly recommending.