Using a backdrop of death, J.D. Barrett has created a wonderful story about life, love, and music.
Zoe Wylde is a harpist who plays music for the dying. She lives with her brother Tom in the family house at Bondi, until her estranged father and stepmother decide to sell the place. Zoe has found her soul mate, a charismatic doctor by the name of Ross. One problem, however: he’s an unavailable man. Her best friend is entangled with romantic endeavours of her own, which only increases Zoe’s feelings of loneliness and confusion.
We begin the story on New Year’s Day with the stunning opening, ‘In this moment, someone is falling in love,’ then we follow Zoe Wylde over the next few months as she navigates her suddenly turbulent life. All the while, she says farewell to old friends in the palliative wards, discovers more about Ross, who she loves, and slowly discovers herself.
But when Ross begins to pledge his love to her, things become even more complicated. Especially since he’s still with his old partner, even though he reassures Zoe that his partner is terminally ill, and that their relationship is more platonic than anything else. Things get even worse when Zoe realises her father is a broken man and may never recover from ‘Dreadful Tina’ chokehold on his life.
Barrett’s refreshing and genuine Australian writing voice offers the simple joy of reading fiction set in places familiar to many of us – Bondi, Surry Hills, and Sydney city. The Song of Us evokes Sydney with crystal clarity, like a mirror reflecting all the beautiful and gritty and mysterious fragments that make up the whole.
There’s a simple joy in reading fiction based on familiar places. Barrett has done so with the mastery of her predecessors; the likes of Helen Garner’s Monkey Grip, Luke Davies’ Candy, and Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South. Years of experience in script editing and Australian television have resulted in a fine ear for wry dialogue and given Barrett the power to create characters that keep this book alive from cover to cover.
Barrett’s drama has many layers of romance, entanglement, and deception. In a recent Better Reading interview, J. D. Barrett defined The Song of Us as ‘soul balm’ and indeed, this book offers fantastic escapism.