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BOOK REVIEW: The Song of Us – J.D. Barrett

| 21 June 2017 | 1 Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Song of Us by J.D. Barrett

Hachette Australia
April 2017
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Fiction/Adult & Contemporary Romance


In popular music your sophomore album is often labelled the “difficult” one because you’ve had a lifetime to write and record the first and are under pressure for the follow-up. This is not the case for J.D. Barrett’s second novel, The Song of Us. This sunny slice of chick-lit deftly weaves together the power of music and its influence on life, love and friendships.

This story is told from the perspective of 34-year-old, Zoe Wylde. She is a likeable character who works hard and has found herself at an existential crisis, in other words her life is at a crossroads. Five years ago she had a panic attack while on-stage, performing as a concert harpist in London. Zoe turned away from her successful career and returned home to Bondi. It was there that she fell in love with an unavailable doctor named Ross.

I met Ross at a conference on care for the dying. He was a guest speaker on unexpected death and coping with the stress of the emergency room. And he was nothing shy of brilliant. His humour and wit ensured we all left uplifted by a shockingly difficult subject. And that’s the paradox of Ross: he uplifts you while he breaks your heart. Quite the party trick.

Ross is a scoundrel. He has an ill long-term partner and a teenage son but this isn’t enough for him. He is also having an affair with Zoe. Ross doesn’t know what he wants in the long-term and Zoe is no better. She phones in her life hoping that Ross will change and her main happiness seems to come from her music.

Nina is the one who got me onto the harp. I had started on piano but wanted a harp from age five. From when Mum died. I think I thought it could help her get into heaven. And the sound of it is so pure and soothing.

Zoe works in Sydney as a musical thanatologist. It is work that she finds rewarding because it involves performing music as therapy for individuals who are in palliative care. Zoe occasionally learns things from her patients from the flippant, “Bubbles and wine make you feel fine but liquor is quicker and good for the ticker” to the more profound, “If you’re not happy, change so you are. You’re a long time dead, buttercup.”

After Zoe inherits an enviable vintage wardrobe full of fashionable clothes and learns about a forgotten romance from a patient on their deathbed, she decides to embark on a trip. Along the way she is supported and challenged by her best friend Lexie who chases new love and her brother who seems to be buried deep in it. Zoe’s bother pines for a woman he cannot have and also chases other women because he longs for the possibility of new relationships. This novel examines some rather important topics like death, love and memories but it also handles these with a light touch. The result is something that feels like Marian Keyes writing a book starring Bridget Jones with some scenes not unlike Tuesdays with Morrie.

How can one day with someone make such an impact on some people’s lives while a lifetime with another can leave barely an impression at all? I guess it’s like music; certain people transcend space, time and rationale and pierce your heart in such a way the moment or two you spend with them becomes the fixed point of the compass of your life.

The Song of Us is ultimately a sound song because it’s a pleasant, optimistic and enjoyable book. Some of the subject matter and plot-lines might beat along to some predictable and familiar riffs but it is saved by some relatable characters and Barrett’s witty one-liners. The Song of Us would make a breezy summer read because it’s so light and bright that it could be the book equivalent of a feel-good hit of the summer.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Natalie Salvo is a foodie and writer from Sydney. You can find her digging around in second hand book shops or submerged in vinyl crates at good record stores. Her website is at:

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