Four-letter Word: New Love Letters, Ed. by Joshua Knelman & Rosalind Porter

Golden rule of writing love letters is ignored by this gang of professionals

If the words "Darling Dodi" failed to set your heart aflutter, perhaps this anthology of fictional love letters might. Drafting in the help of 40 professionals – Margaret Atwood, A L Kennedy, Hari Kunzru and Leonard Cohen among them – the co-editors hope to reveal what the "L" word looks like in the 21st century.

Love in ruins has always made for a more interesting read than love triumphant, so it's perhaps not surprising that the most memorable letters are written as addenda to failed relationships. From the desperate email correspondence generated by a doomed one-night stand (Lionel Shriver) to the disappointments of a mini-break in Venice (Jeanette Winterson), the book is filled with crotchety singletons intent on setting the record straight. "Odi et Amo" is a perennial dichotomy, and as Tessa Brown's litigious contribution so wittily illustrates, these modern lovers swing from enumerating past sexual favours to slagging off one another's oral health.

For a supposed collection of billets-doux, passion and tendresse are in short supply. Ignoring Victor Hugo's advice that a love letter should be a "kiss in the post" (he sent more than 5,000), few contributors have attempted the kind of erotically inspired declarations that leave the mobile throbbing in the wee small hours, or their recipients smirking with private knowledge. The book's lustiest entry – a letter fondly recalling a holiday ménage à trois – is penned by a rather sensible Anonymous.

Love, as Diana found, is a difficult language to translate. While clichéd sweet-nothings are accepted currency among crooners and lyricists, they tend to fall flat when committed to the page. This probably explains why Cohen's letter turns out to be the most authentic – and least well-crafted – entry in the book. A freewheeling ode to middle-aged rejection, at least it obeys the first rule of how to write a love letter: it speaks directly from the heart.

The editors' fatal miscalculation – and ultimately why their book probably won't fly off the shelves – comes from the fact that the only love letters people really want to read are addressed to themselves. Perused several times an hour, the best lines memorised by heart, they provide, as Edith Wharton so aptly put it, "an exquisite accompaniment to the dull prose of life". Love letters don't even need to be well-written to work their magic. A simple "U R Gr8" will often do the trick.

Chatto & Windus, £12.99. Order for £11.69 (free p&p) on 0870 079 8897

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
    The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

    The haunting of Shirley Jackson

    Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
    Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

    Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

    These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
    Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

    A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen