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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Arrogance And Innocence

Greatest Hits - Laura Barnett

Two decades after Cass Wheeler, a hugely successful British singer-songwriter, retired abruptly from the music business, she is preparing to break her silence and release simultaneously an album of new material alongside an album of her greatest hits. The narrative of Laura Barnett's novel is structured around a day that Cass spends listening to each of the chosen tracks for her Greatest Hits album and remembering the events that inspired them.


Cass's reminiscences stretch right back to the early days of her career and Barnett does a very good job of evoking the heady sense of freedom of the nineteen seventies as the structures of post-war Britain, breached by the cultural explosion of the sixties, begin to crumble away, revealing a world where anything seems possible.


Unfortunately for Cass, the promises that a life of music seemed to offer turn out to be hollow: marital breakdown, the incompatibility of motherhood and the music business, and the mental illness of her daughter all conspire to turn her dream of unfettered creativity into a nightmare of recrimination.


It's an immensely readable novel. For me, however, the weak link is the lyrics with which each new section begins. Significant claims are made for them as the kind of songs that might speak to a generation but I wasn't entirely convinced. But this is no more than a quibble, amply compensated by the strongly drawn personality of Cass  -  flawed, damaged but always struggling towards redemption - and by the portrait of an era, already almost forgotten, full of arrogance, enthusiasm and a naïve kind of innocence.