Four-letter Word: New Love Letters, Edited by Joshua Knelman and Rosalind Porter

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The Independent Culture

If electronic text and tweets fail to set your heart aflutter this Valentine's Day, then this anthology of fictional love letters just might. Drafting in the help of 40 literary heavyweights – Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen and Hari Kunzru among them– the book's editors, Joshua Knelman and Rosalind Porter, hope to reveal what the "L" word looks like in the 21st century.

But for those hoping for a romantic primer, be warned: these modern day belletrists are a gloomy lot. Love in ruins has always made for a more thrilling read than happily ever after, and many of the entries here are written as addenda to failed relationships. Lionel Shriver logs the email correspondence generated by a doomed one night stand; Jeanette Winterson recalls a disappointing mini-break in Venice; while Tessa Brown, in litigious mode, enumerates an ex-lover's lapses on the personal hygiene front. The book's lustiest entry – a letter recalling a holiday ménage à trois – is penned by Anon.

Reading other people's love letters – even those dispatched by the likes of Bryon and Bonaparte – can prove a lacklustre affair. What we really want are letters addressed to ourselves. Hidden in biscuit tins, or assigned to memory sticks, billet doux should provide, as Edith Wharton put it: "an exquisite accompaniment to the dull prose of life." Love letters don't have to be literary masterpieces to work their magic. A simple U R GRT can suffice.

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