This is the best aid to procrastination I’ve read for some time. Whatever dull task awaits, one can just find time to read a couple of letters before doing it – though ‘a couple’ tends to stretch to four … seven … the end of the chapter … page 752.
It’s a slightly unusual collection as it includes letters from the other side of a correspondence where possible, and has a detailed connecting narrative to place the letters in context. Noel Coward knew everybody who was anybody, so as well as its biographical element, there is some implicit (if spasmodic) social history of theatre from 1920 to 1960. There are plenty of illustrations too.
The letters are hugely entertaining, occasionally causing bursts of laughter which made the guinea pigs leap in panic, and then look at me reproachfully. The selection is mostly from the professional side of his life, but there were a few moments when I thought of the old couplet
From lives of famous men we learn
Never to keep the letters we ought to burn.
However, I’m sure Coward was well aware of that rule, and chose to transgress it, along with many others, ensuring a final audience for his lifelong role as the Master.