Book review: The Song of Us by JD Barrett

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 Permalink

I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction that doesn’t involve serial killers or murder and mayhem. I am however, expanding my reading repertoire and enjoying more Australian literature and general fiction.

I think I’d expected JD Barrett’s The Song of Us to be pretty light… akin to Zoe Foster Blake’s The Wrong Girl or Bridget Jones or similar. But, it was different, with some interesting messages lying beneath the entertaining prose and narrative.

Book review: The Song of Us by JD BarrettThe Song of Us
by J.D. Barrett
Published by Hachette Australia
on April 11th 2017
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
ISBN: 9780733637896
Pages: 336

Zoe Wylde is a woman at a crossroad. Five years ago, she fled her successful career as a concert harpist in London to return to her Bondi home. She still plays, but now her audience is on the way out ... literally. It's complicated and complication is something Zoe understands well.

Her best friend is chasing a new love, her brother's chasing too much love and her father has been married far too many times. Compared to them she thought she was doing okay. She's met the guy she is sure is the ONE. He wooed her and has been sleeping with her for almost five years. It would all be perfect ... if he wasn't married.

Zoe is learning that hearts, like harps, are capable of beautiful music if treated the right way and can be tricky to manoeuvre. She's over the old tune. But does Zoe have the courage to rewrite the song of her own life?

I think it’d be almost impossible not to like Zoe. She’s far from perfect – floundering a little with her passion and career, and in a long-term relationship with a married man – but Barrett puts us firmly in Zoe’s head, so we’re privy to her every thought and come to know her well.

In fact I felt Barrett did a good job with the array of complex characters and liked that she didn’t offer up any cliches, which would have been tempting. Zoe’s lover – the older surgeon really didn’t have a God complex and seemed genuinely confused about what he wanted. Her brother Tom bordered on the stereotypical surfer dude, working his way through the women of Bondi, but his crush on Zoe’s gay bestie and love for his sister was his redemption.

I liked the friendship between Zoe and her best friend Lexie, but did wonder what gay women would think of Lexie’s propensity to fall for straight women and ‘turn*’ them. A former colleague of mine used to say she’d sworn off relationships with straight women (or those who recently identified as gay), as they were fraught with danger and likely to end in tears.

I also particularly liked the backstory involving Zoe and Tom and their father. Step-families are very much the norm nowadays but their history is a sad one and I was frustrated by their dad’s treatment of his ‘first’ family. I know it happens, but the injustice of it all pisses me off. But I liked that Barrett had Zoe eventually rationally see her father for who he was / is and accept that.

In fact, I guess that’s Zoe’s journey (#sorrynotsorry about the wanky word!). Over the course of the book Zoe is challenged by the people in her life (particularly two elderly women at the Palliative Care facility – Clara and June), but also her bestie, brother and lover as well as her father; and she’s firmly forced out of her comfort zone.

As an aside I appreciated the side story about Palliative Care resident June and long-lost love Clem. It’s not covered in detail but Barrett uses it cleverly to underscore the book’s themes about regret, risk and taking chances.

And that’s the rub. I guess most of us spend much of our life in pain – sometimes self-created mental and emotional pain – and it sucks the essential force from our lives. We all want to be right, to get it right, but what does getting it right give us? A perfect performance perhaps, but too much restraint leads to paralysis. p 88

Zoe’s work with the dying gives her an insight many of us miss… that notion that it’s the small moments that make up our lives. And it’s a reminder for we readers that, while we spend our days wishing away our time, waiting for perfection… the moments we should be appreciating disappear.

The Song of Us by JD Barrett was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

* I wasn’t sure what term to use, so hope this isn’t offensive! I heartily apologise if it is!


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