Publisher: W & N Books (Orion)
Publication date: 15th June 2017 (UK)
It’s confirmed. Laura Barnett is a storytelling virtuoso, and I feel blessed to have Greatest Hits sitting on my bookshelf. This glorious melody of words and lyrics will take you by the heart and walk you through a sublime pilgrimage to heal a soul.
The guests will be arriving soon, a network of cogs in the Cass Wheeler machine. Before she opens the doors of her home to them it is her task to make a selection of her Greatest Hits, an ensemble of the vivid memories fashioned by the years. Their individual association to Cass is explored with an introduction of a song, its poignant verse and chorus presented in a familiar format for you to absorb.
As Cass is a natural conductor of emotions channelling her experiences into music it’s wonderful not only to see the origins of her music but how it evolved. Including the year of release and crediting the supporting artists gave a genuine sense of who had walked into onto the stage at a given time and where they fit into the story. Those she remembers with fondness like her friend and assistant, Kim, who can pluck a solution out of thin air. Then there are those who manufactured the problems, perhaps not always with intent, but still.
During the course of an early morning until the evening falls, the bright spark of talent in a young naive songwriter builds to a crescendo of the icon who stepped back from the bright lights. A veteran of life whose playlist of her past is taking shape: a musician’s spirit, a daughter’s memories, a mother’s anguish. It’s an intensely personal and therapeutic process inviting heart breaking reservations to surface after they’d been long buried. And as Cass Wheeler says:
…Like meeting myself again. Or the person I used to be, anyway.
Greatest Hits is a memoir where the writer allows us to read between the lines. It’s all purely fictional of course, and yet these people are anything but two-dimensional characters on a page. They are expressive and unique, afflicted by passion, envy and sorrow.
It’s truly, truly wonderful in every way imaginable and I can’t recommend it highly enough. This book is a keeper for sure.
(Courtesy of Amazon UK)
Cass Wheeler – a British singer-songwriter, hugely successful since the early 70s, whose sudden disappearance from the music world three decades later has been the subject of intense speculation among her fans – is in the studio that adjoins her home, taking a journey back into her past. Her task is to choose sixteen songs from among the hundreds she has written since her early teens, for a uniquely personal Greatest Hits record, describing the arc of her life through song.
It has been over a decade since Cass last put out an album; ten years since a tragedy catapulted her into a breakdown. In the course of this one day – both ordinary and extraordinary – each song Cass plays sets off a chain of memories, leading us deep into her past, and into the creative impulse that has underpinned her work.
This is the story of a life – the highs and lows, love and separation, success and failure. Of what it is to live a fulfilled life, and how to make peace with our mistakes.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)
Laura Barnett is a writer, journalist and theatre critic. She has been on staff at the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, and is now a freelance arts journalist and features writer, working for the Guardian, the Observer and Time Out, as well as several other national newspapers and magazines.
Laura was born in 1982 in south London, where she now lives with her husband. She studied Spanish and Italian at Cambridge University, and newspaper journalism at City University, London. Her first non-fiction book, Advice from the Players – a compendium of advice for actors – is published by Nick Hern Books.
Laura has previously published short stories, for which she has won several awards. The Versions of Us is her first novel.
[I was humbled when Laura Barnett visited the blog way back in 2015. You can find that Q&A here.]