To my astonishment and dismay, I initially found this book disconcerting, I couldn’t reconcile the fictional autobiography within the novel context and found myself slightly annoyed, putting it down after just a couple of chapters.
I agonised about it overnight, then picked it up again this morning, as everything had rung true and I’d liked how the author had cleverly used a line or two from Cohen’s songs. Within pages, I couldn’t put it down. In a way, a bit like a Dylan concert – initial confusion gave way to increasingly stunned appreciation. Samson’s writing not only gets under the skin of her characters, it also gets under the reader’s skin.
The book is surreal – you know, or gradually understand the main character is a work of fiction, but many of the other characters are real, the majority of incidents all happened and have been covered in previous biographies, to which the author, Polly Samson, gives enthusiastic credit, reserving deserved special praise for Sylvia Symond’s I’M YOUR MAN. It’s interesting to note she thanks the estates of the major players, even Cohen’s lawyer, Robert Kory, which does rather tell you how factual this superb work of fiction is. And for inner sanctum Cohenites, Jarkko Arjatsalo and Allan Showalter are also thanked.
As I closed the book, a profound sadness and sense of loss came over me, which, over several hours, diluted to a bitter sweet melancholy. I found myself reflecting on my own life mistakes and desperately wanting to return to Hydra.
The book, I am assuming intentionally, reminds us that our heroes are human and though they may possess incredible talent, they are just as fallible and at times lost, as we all are. Somehow Samson deftly manages to respect and honour Clift, Johnson, Cohen and Ihlen, while at the same time, painting a breathtakingly realistic picture of their turbulent times on Hydra.
It is probably a book that could not have been written whilst they were still with us, but alas, they are all gone, bequeathing us the genius of their work and now, through the wonderful writing of Polly Samson, a glimpse of a period and place that fuelled their dreams of poetry, prose, music and love.
This book is profound.