One indication of the world’s enduring interest in the Beatles is that more than 2,000 books have been written about them. Most are factual explorations of the group’s career and the remarkable music they created. If fans are fascinated with Beatles compositions, however, they seem equally intrigued by the personalities of the musicians who created all those timeless tunes. It is thus perhaps not surprising that numerous writers have written novels about the band. More than forty such works exist, and while their quality varies greatly, seven* stand out as the most readable and interesting.
#7 Catcher’s Keeper, by J.D. Spero (2014)
Spero’s book details a writer’s attempt to prevent the assassination of John Lennon. The protagonist, Alden, authors an account of his teenage years that shares many elements of J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, a work about “phonies” which fascinates MD, Spero’s Mark David Chapman character. Alden soon realizes that MD’s obsession with both his book and John Lennon are potentially catastrophic, and he strives to intervene before it is too late. Though uneven in places, Spero’s novel ultimately succeeds as an interesting exploration of “what if.”
#6 Get Back, by Donovan Day (2015)
Set in 2015, Day’s novel has a theme similar to Spero’s. Following a brain injury, seventeen-year-old Lenny Funk discovers he has the ability to travel through time. After being convinced to transport himself via an iPod back to 1971 to prevent Doors frontman Jim Morrison from overdosing on drugs, Beatles fan Funk ponders the possibility of also saving John Lennon’s life. Though best categorized as a YA novel, Day’s work is thoughtful and offers no pat answers or easy solutions to complex dilemmas. Funk struggles with the consequences of changing history, and the book’s conclusion is both surprising and thought-provoking.
#5 The Girl Who Became a Beatle, by Greg Taylor (2011)
Another YA novel, Taylor’s work is lighter in tone than Get Back. Its narrator, sixteen-year-old Regina Bloomsbury, suffers teenage heartache, and her band, The Caverns, are on the verge of breaking up. Desperate, she makes a wish to become as famous as the Beatles. When her desire is realized and Meet the Caverns! is topping the charts with songs like “All My Loving,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Regina quickly realizes that she is living in a world where the Beatles never existed. Just as Jack Malik struggles to cope with illegitimate success in Danny Boyle’s 2019 film Yesterday, Regina must decide whether or not to come clean to a world that adores her and the music she has purportedly created.
#4 A Day in the Life, by L. John Perkins (2005)
Much more than another silly exploration of the “Paul is dead” conspiracy theory, Perkins’ clever novel describes how the Beatles grudgingly accept an impostor into the group after McCartney’s death in 1966. Facing financial catastrophe under Brian Epstein’s naïve management practices, the Beatles sign on with Charm, a mysterious but wildly-successful company based in the Bahamas. Chapters alternate between 1980 and the mid-sixties. The former tracks the investigation by a freelance rock journalist into whether Paul’s supposed death may endanger John’s life. The latter trace impostor Billy Shears’ attempts to change the direction of the group’s music. In less skillful hands, the premise may have collapsed under its own weight, but here Perkins offers a thoughtful fictional exploration of a theory that in real life is simply thoughtless.
#3 Rubber Soul, by Greg Kihn (2013)
Successful musician Kihn’s novel traces the story of Bobby Dingle (aka Dustbin Bob), a young Liverpudlian who provides the early Beatles with 45s from America and later makes a number of contributions to their success significant enough to warrant him the title of Fifth Beatle. Like the lads he befriends, Dingle’s struggles are many, but his perseverance and ability to bounce back when down endear him to the group and ultimately provide them with the title of their sixth album (Rubber Soul). Kihn has a good ear for dialog and his portrayal of John Lennon, the Beatle closest to Dingle, is convincing throughout.
#2 Liverpool Fantasy, by Larry Kirwan (2003)
Like Kihn, Kirwan has strong credentials in the music industry, fronting Irish rock band, Black 47. Here he deftly explores what might have become of each member of the Beatles had they broken up in 1962, just when they were poised to take over the world. The novel is set in 1987, and John Lennon, whose refusal to compromise led to the group’s untimely breakup, is on the dole. Ringo still drums part-time but spends most of his time dodging the verbal darts of his wife. George is a disillusioned Catholic priest. Paul, the only successful member of the Fab Four, is a Las Vegas lounge singer. The witty and amusing novel centers around McCartney’s attempt to reunite the band and save his sold-out soul. Kirwan paints each Beatle in detail and with an educated palette.
#1 Shivering Inside, by Jude Southerland Kessler (2010)
The second in the author’s series of books based on the life of John Lennon, this volume concentrates on the period between December 1961 and April 1963, a pivotal time in the Beatles’ evolution. Difficult to accurately classify, Kessler doesn’t call her works “novels” — she describes them as “historical narrative.” Her approach is both scholarly and popular. Shivering Inside, for example, includes more than 700 footnotes, as Kessler is scrupulously careful to base her portrayal of John’s actions and thoughts on the numerous biographical accounts already available. The author’s intimate knowledge of Lennon’s every step is paired with a keen understanding of the myriad contradictions that formed Lennon’s psyche. The result is a book that is much more than simple biography. Audacious in ambition and scope, Shivering Inside and the other three volumes currently available in the planned nine-volume series offer Beatles fans the chance to know John as no others have before it.
* While I have omitted it from this particular list because of its singular focus on Lennon’s post-Beatles life, I also strongly recommend Kevin Barry’s remarkable novel, Beatlebone.
Photo of the Beatles: Getty Images