The good: The emotion. The writing. The songs. Everything!
The not-so-good: Cass’s pain is tangible at times…I’ve never felt so much for a character.
Why I chose it: I love Laura Barnett’s writing. Thanks Hachette for the copy to devour.
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Hachette)
Setting: Predominantly England
Rating: 10 out of 10
I finished reading Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett just over a week ago and I’m suffering two problems. One, I can’t get this fantastic novel out of my mind. It’s a read that leads to significant book hangover. Two, I really don’t know how my review can possibly due to this book justice. I’ve thought of various angles but none of them seem to even be minutely worthy of the novel. Imploring you to read this won’t be enough (and it will make this review very boring). So let me tell you a bit about this deceptive simple story that captures all the feels.
Cass Wheeler is a singer. On one particular day, she’s decided to listen to her back catalogue and put together the songs that mean the most to her for a greatest hits album. She’ll listen all day, pick her favourites and then have a fantastic party to celebrate that night. It sounds easy, right? But for Cass, each song she wrote and performed is intensely personal. She hasn’t listened to her music for a long time, once distancing herself from the business completely. Listening opens up memories, emotions and reflections which are raw, painful, jubilant or buried. As she listens, she reflects on her life.
That’s where the reader begins to hear the real story of Cass Wheeler, beyond the tabloids in this brutally honest reflection. It starts with her youth and works her way through her life to the present day (somewhere her in her sixties, if my calculations are correct). Each section talks about the present, then delving into Cass’s past and closing with the chosen song. The reader gradually gets an idea of Cass’s present and why she is where she is. It’s not until the end that we see Cass as a whole, naked, bruised and ultimately strengthened by her life. It’s a beautifully written journey, dealing with many issues from desertion to violence, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll (well, more folk in Cass’s life) and love.
You can’t help but become a fan of Cass. Baring everything, she became someone I truly cared about. She felt as real as a friend. I wanted desperately for everything to turn out well for her to the point where I read well into the night just to ensure present Cass would have some happiness. Laura Barnett’s biggest strength is in the creation of characters that you feel could be real. (Though on the flip side, she makes some characters that you really wouldn’t want to get on the bad side of too!). That’s closely followed by her style of writing, which puts the reader on the scene, feeling and seeing everything that Cass does. It’s all so vivid, that you can’t help but feel Cass’s emotions.
And if that wasn’t enough, there is an album to accompany Greatest Hits. Kathryn Williams (who gets her own mention within the story if you look closely enough) performs Cass’s songs (which she and Laura wrote, some in conjunction with others). It’s a unique experience, like if the book was brought to life and Cass could sing to the reader. I highly recommend giving it a listen, whether you read the book or not. It’s different from a film or TV show as it allows you as the reader to keep your own vision of Cass, but really hear her speak from the pages.
Greatest Hits could well be my book of 2017, it’s that brilliant. Do yourself a favour and read it.