Orion, £25 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

The John Lennon Letters, Edited by Hunter Davies

This long-awaited collection of John Lennon's letters shine a light on an era, and the man

The triumph of these 200 or so letters is that they are not just about John and Mimi, or John and The Beatles, or John and Yoko. They are all of that but, within the framework editor Hunter Davies gives them, they're also about a time and place, and Lennon's role within it. It is hard to distinguish whether the honestly and innocence of some of his correspondence reflects his personality, or his era.

The most unexpected aspect of the collection is the openness with which Lennon responded to his fans. A man who was met off a plane by a sea of screaming girls was not above hand-writing them considered letters. Davies suggests this was partly for publicity. Even so, they speak volumes about the nature of celebrity in this time. Fans had a direct line. At the height of his fame, Lennon wrote to them (as well as journalists) as unguardedly as one might today to a friend or colleague.

Take the letter to "Sylvia & Kathy", to whom he sends the home addresses of George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr; or the letter he wrote "Jean" about the Maharishi and the search for truth; or one to Beth Dewar, a possible fan to whom he wrote about transcendental meditation's similarities to Christianity. He grew close to a Norwegian fan, Lindy Ness, while in Hamburg, writing fondly ("you're a gas man") and in a slightly tortured stream-of-consciousness.

Yet fame – maybe even the fan-mail – came between him and his family. Hundreds of letters arrived at his home in Surrey and later New York, and family correspondence was sometimes lost among them. His letters to his cousin Leila, are the most revealing, and the least angry, though he expressed family frustrations. It is to Leila he writes, poignantly now, "I bet I live till a ripe old age." It is not his volcanic open letter to Paul and Linda McCartney (the "John rant") nor his bitterness towards his first wife, Cynthia, that provide the highlights.

We get a keener sense of Lennon's inner life through his fan and family letters, silly postcards, scrawled notes, doodles. He greatly valued humour ("Your majesty, I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing... and against "Cold Turkey" slipping down the charts"). He was prone to being angry, snide and then funny and forgiving in the same letter. He had an early literary ability: a devilish, delightful relish for tricksy, Edward Lear-ish wordplay and rhyme.

We are reminded that he wrote two volumes of poetry with an unpublished poem here. His love of words went beyond song-writing, although his four-page Christmas card to Cynthia while still at art school has "I love you" repeated like a tune: "I love you yes yes yes".

Earlier this week, Philip Hensher and Diana Athill spoke about the value of hand-writing on a Radio 4 programme. Here, we see what they mean. Lennon's scrawls have an energy, a personality. His illustrations have verve. Even the to-do lists in the last chapter are as riveting as they are banal. Lennon's force of personality stops the smallest doodles from being mere memorabilia.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week