In 1981, Philip Norman published Shout!, an exuberant account of the Beatles’ chaotic existence. A 500-page tome that divided fans along the usual lines of Lennon v McCartney, it earned Norman the reputation – largely true – of being “anti-Paul”. This follow-up is a tribute to his bespectacled idol that, at 800-plus pages, expresses his admiration in both words and sheer tonnage.
The Life sets out to be the last word on the Lennon saga. Starting with the near-Dickensian exploits of the first John Lennon, the Beatle’s paternal grandfather, Norman explores the complex family connections like a King James Version rewritten by John Sutherland. By the time the Working-Class Hero himself takes centre-stage, an epic historical context is firmly in place. Born in wartime as “Hitler’s mechanised armies” swept across Europe, John lives a childhood that is a Just William fantasy made reality.
Even before his transfiguration into the all-powerful Walrus at the vanguard of pop, Lennon’s life is complicated by his mother, “a bewitching redhead who loved him, but never quite enough”. His struggles to come to terms with his familial roots are the core of the biography, which, predictably, is also a gold mine for Beatles facts and post-break-up anecdotes.