Book Review: Greatest Hits, by Laura Barnett #GreatestHits

Publisher:  W & N Books (Orion)

Publication date: 15th June 2017 (UK)

my-review

greatest-hits-by-laura-barnett-coverIt’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.

Rating:    5/5

(A massive thank you to Rebecca Gray and W&N Books for the advanced copy of this book. It gives me great pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

greatest-hits-by-laura-barnett-with-headphones

book-summary

(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.

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author-profile

(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.]

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Book Review: The Sunlit Night, by Rebecca Dinerstein

Publication date:  4th June 2015

Publisher:  Bloomsbury

Source:  Hardback copy received via publisher’s giveaway

Lost souls find their way in The Sunlit Night, which exhibits the awkwardness of life itself and how hesitance can so easily throw precious moments away.

This is a peculiar yet compulsive old story. Despite being relatively uneventful, it explores the characters’ respective journeys, but not necessarily their final destinations. A small flock of assorted folk appear on and off the stage at various intervals, including those seeking love, the ones where it has slipped through their fingers, or those not even knowing where to begin.

For me the highlight of this tale was actually the funeral of one the main characters’ father who wanted to be laid to rest at the top of the world, hence the setting of Lofoten in Norway where nineteen year old Yasha and his deceased father arrive. Referring to a burial as a ‘highlight’ is quite possibly the most inappropriate thing I’ve ever said about such a sombre occasion. But when the site of a replica Viking museum indulges the last wishes of a baker from New York, and the majority of the ceremony is ad-libbed by complete strangers under the argumentative guidance of three official mourners, it’s an event you won’t forget that easily!

One of the strangers attending the funeral is a twenty-one year old called Frances, a fellow New Yorker who had been sleepwalking through a relationship which left her feeling used. The good thing is it prompted her to seek fulfilment by painting the interior of an old asylum with yellow paint prior to the arrival of building inspectors, while an artist called Nils (‘The Inhibited’) tackles the exterior. Yes, the situations are strange and unusual but are fitting for this particular tale.

Yasha and Frances make both contributions and discoveries where the sun doesn’t set or rise. As the day rolls into night there is plenty of time for contemplation before forging a new self from the broken pieces they arrived with. They are each introduced and then given their own spotlight during the course of six parts followed by a ‘Coda’. It combines the realities they are escaping and what they may hope to discover on this remote but welcoming place on the globe, all sealed with its offbeat Nordic legend.

There is a simplistic beauty to The Sunlit Night. Crucially though, emotion was applied in moderation and life-changing decisions occurred in a matter of fact way, which meant I could only nibble around the edges of events rather than sink my teeth into them. That aside, I loved the premise of this one and the quirky characters made it an incredibly swift read.

Rating:  3/5

(I am most grateful to have received a copy of this lovely looking hardback following a giveaway run by the publisher, and I’m more than happy to provide an unbiased review. I’m just sorry it’s taken so long to read it – yep, I’m trying to catch up with the neglected TBR where I can!)

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

In the beautiful, barren landscape of the Far North, under the ever-present midnight sun, Frances and Yasha are surprised to find refuge in each other. Their lives have been uprooted – Frances has fled heartbreak and claustrophobic Manhattan for an isolated artist colony; Yasha arrives from Brooklyn to fulfil his beloved father’s last wish: to be buried ‘at the top of the world’. They have come to learn how to be alone.

But in Lofoten, an archipelago of five tiny islands in the Norwegian Sea, ninety-five miles north of the Arctic Circle, they form a bond that fortifies them against the turmoil of their distant homes, offering solace amidst great uncertainty. In nimble and sure-footed prose, Dinerstein explores how far we travel to claim our own territory, while it is ultimately love that gives us our place in the world.

‘Marks the appearance of a brave talent’ Jonathan Safran Foer.

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(Courtesy of author’s website)

REBECCA DINERSTEIN is the author of the novel The Sunlit Night and the bilingual English-Norwegian collection of poems Lofoten. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The New Yorker online, among others. She received her B.A. from Yale and her M.F.A. in Fiction from New York University, where she was a Rona Jaffe Graduate Fellow. She lives in Brooklyn.

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