The Christian Science Monitor : 2020-12-07

40 : 40 : 40


BOOKS Q&A A shared life but different memories Lesley-Ann Jones, with author of ‘ The Search for John Lennon’ The Fab Four had nicknames: the cute one, the quiet one, the smart one, the funny one. The brainy Beatle was also dizzyingly complex, as demonstrat­ed in “The Search for John Lennon: The Life, Loves, and Death of a Rock Star,” which arrives as fans mark the 40th anniversar­y of his murder in New York on Dec. 8, 1980. Monitor correspond­ent Randy Dotinga spoke with the book’s author, British rock historian Lesley-Ann Jones, about her deeply perceptive portrait of this brilliant, troubled, not-always-admirable musician. By Joan Gaylord / Correspond­ent consider those parts of his personalit­y? W He hadn’t the best start in life, and fear was the thing that drove John the most. It is very important to reveal him in all his facets, warts and all, how he compromise­d himself horribly to become things he didn’t believe in for the sake of fame and fortune. hat confers identity, and what gives a sense of belonging? Is it family? Locale? Community? In her charming novel “A Lover’s Discourse,” Xiaolu Guo explores these universal questions through the experience­s of a man and woman who meet and fall in love despite their considerab­le difference­s. The pair cross paths in London in 2015, just as Brexit begins to dominate the conversati­on. She has recently moved from southern China to pursue a graduate degree at a British university. He is a landscape architect who grew up in Australia, though he lived in Germany during his teen years. Guo skillfully employs the relatively mundane backdrop to explore loftier themes of identity and purpose. These are weighty questions to ponder, and it is a credit to Guo’s talent as a writer that this slim volume succeeds so beautifull­y in addressing them. Her prose possesses qualities of poetry, and her plot is structured just enough to make the story cohesive while still managing to evoke the ethereal quality of memories. The story is told in brief chapters that each begin with a few sentences of dialogue shared between the two lovers. Neither of them is ever named. Following these fragments of dialogue, both the man and woman reflect upon scraps of memories that reveal how differentl­y they recall events in their shared lives. The Brexit vote brings with it a heightened awareness of national identity that makes everyone leery of strangers. Guo uses the couple’s struggles as a microcosm of a national conversati­on. While Guo asks timely questions about societal divisions, she is not prescripti­ve in her answers. She leaves it to readers to discern their own truths. Q: Yoko Ono, Lennon’s second wife, is often painted as a villain who broke up the Beatles. How do you view her? She was his salvation in so many ways. For one, she was the ultimate motherrepl­acement therapy. She also was a much more enlightene­d, better-educated person than John and a trained musician herself. She introduced these more global ideas and brought him into the 20th century. Q: What surprised you about John Lennon’s life? I didn’t realize quite how much his songwritin­g was a blatant cry for help. He’s always trying to claw his way back to his mother. I’ve interviewe­d many rock stars, and it’s struck me how much these guys tend to have in common. They almost always come to music as an escape. They’ve mostly had dysfunctio­nal childhoods with abuse or abandonmen­t, and there’s a massive void that they’re looking to fill in some way. For the book, I wanted to approach it from a woman’s and a mother’s point of view – bring the small boy John back, see [the world] through a child’s eyes, and try to bring him along with me and understand him at every stage. Q: How did Lennon redeem himself late in life? He found genuine happiness as a partner and a father. All of his failings with his first wife [the late Cynthia Lennon] and his son Julian are redeemed with [his second son] Sean, although that obviously didn’t do Julian much good. But I think Julian also has forgiven his father by now and has come to terms with the reasons why he was neglected. John did come full circle and was happy. FICTION DAVID HOGAN/PEGASUS BOOKS Q: What’s your assessment of Lennon? I ended up really loving him. And I’m somebody who’s adored Paul McCartney ever since I was a child. John found the thing that I’ve never found, which is the one true love. He solved his problems from the outside inwards by accepting that Yoko was the woman for him. He did treat his first wife, Cynthia, terribly badly. But I feel now that he probably didn’t know how else to tell her that the marriage wasn’t working and that he’d found someone else. A lot of the time, a man might seem to do something mean and spiteful because he doesn’t know how to do it any other way. So I have a lot of sympathy for John. He did learn from women. And we can understand him most by examining the women in his life. A LOVER’S DISCOURSE By Xiaolu Guo Grove Press 288 pp. Q: How does the hit Beatles song “Help!” fit into this narrative? He wrote it when he was 24. It was a very upbeat, jolly song that we’d dance around to. If you really listen to the words – “Help! I need somebody / Help! Not just anybody” – he’s crying out to his mum. When I was a child listening to these very catchy songs, I had no idea that they were so personal, and so multilayer­ed and so full of his own angst, trying to work things out, get a handle on himself, and find out who he was. Q: Lennon often comes across as a mean, cruel, and violent person. How should we r r 40 THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY | DECEMBER 7, 2020 PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTE­D BY PRESSREADE­R PressReade­ +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY COPYRIGHT AND PROTECTED BY APPLICABLE LAW