The deserved success of Shaun Usher’s marvellous anthology Letters of Note has inspired several imitators, and Caroline Atkins’s sparkling collection makes an ideal companion volume. Here are missives both literary and otherwise, all of them destined never to be read by their intended recipients... What a Hazard a Letter Is is lively and well researched, and includes many examples I’d never come across before. But it’s best taken in small doses. Otherwise, the cumulative effect is rather like going to a cocktail party and eating lots of nibbles, but going home without any supper.
Caroline Atkins has compiled a curious, astute and entertaining collection of famous unsent, unreceived (and a few unwritten) letters in history and literature. Some of the most heartbreaking are imaginary... This utterly original compilation takes in Saul Bellow’s manic letter-writer Moses Herzog, television’s The Young Ones and the wily response of John F Kennedy to a letter from Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis: he pretended he never received it, possibly saving millions of lives. It’s a charming book, witty, original and wise.
Yet unsent letters provide essential devices in fiction, as well as being part of the tragedy of life — as editor Caroline Atkins shows in this gloriously varied collection... Cleverly, Atkins mixes fictional unsent letters with ones from real life... when real letters are set next to chunks of fiction, we’re forced to catch our breath, moved by the randomness of fate — with nobody pulling the strings... Within these fascinating pages jostle Beethoven, John F. Kennedy, Van Gogh... all putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and then thinking better of it.