The Song of Us is the second novel by Australian TV writer, editor and author, J.D.Barrett. It’s New Year’s Day, and Zoe Wylde makes herself a promise: she will “not let another year, month, week or day slip by without knowing if Ross is going to be truly with me, or not”. Ross is Zoe’s man. Except he’s not. Ross lives with his long-term partner and their son. He professes to love Zoe, but there’s always a good reason he can’t leave Jeanie and Joshua right now.
Zoe lives in the family home with her older brother, Tom, who is tragically still in love with Zoe’s (rampantly lesbian) best friend, Lexie, has been since he met her when he was ten. Lexie’s always on the lookout for “the one”, the woman she will marry, and makes no secret of her opinion of Ross, always highly critical that he manages to enjoy the best of both worlds. Tom and Zoe’s dad, Lou is not often in the picture: when he does arrive with his greedy girlfriend, Dreadful Tina, it’s to drop a bombshell into their lives.
Zoe is a world-class harpist, but since suffering a panic attack while playing with the London Symphony Orchestra, she plays for a much smaller audience: Zoe works at a palliative care facility as a music thanatologist. Zoe plays her harp for the dying and their loved ones. Her repertoire is both classical and modern; sometimes she does requests; sometimes she composes music especially for her patients, always trying to bring comfort to their final hours. A remark by Zoe’s former orchestra colleague, crazy Gigi, and the wishes of two of her patients give her the impetus she needs to bring change into her life: soon she is wearing stunning designer outfits in inspirational places, auditioning in London and looking for an elderly long-lost love.
Barrett’s touching tale is about love and families and friendship and caring. Lives and loves end, new ones start, and our sweet protagonist finally learns to stand up for herself. There is plenty of humour and a cast of quirky characters. Zoe’s narrative is interspersed with letters that tell the story of an enduring love between ballet dancer June and artist Clem, that began just before the outbreak of World War Two and withstood a seventy-five-year separation. Barrett touches on death and dying, on extra-marital affairs, on guilt and on grief. Tender and funny, this is a delightful read. With thanks to Bookstr and Hachette Australia for this copy to read and review.