Leonard cohen

Religion provides the rhythm

Music is an art of time: songs play to a rhythm, giving shape to the seconds as they pass, charging the present with a pulse we can feel. But as music takes us forward through time it also takes us back – to the moment of its composition or recording; to a particularly resonant time in our own past; and yet further, summoning the echoes of older music contained within a song. In new books by David Remnick and Michel Faber we get two different approaches to writing about something ephemeral yet emotionally adhesive. One of them made time fly, and one of them made time slow until the only

The data-spew about Bob Dylan never ends

When it comes to Bob Dylan, Clinton Heylin is The Man Who Knows Too Much. Since publishing his first biography, 1991’s Behind the Shades, he has become the world’s most committed Dylanologist, doggedly untwining the facts from the artist’s self-serving fictions. When he describes Dylan’s wildly unreliable 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One as ‘all a put-on… all a lie’, he has the receipts. As he never tires of pointing out, scholars and diehards are in his debt, but amassing data from sessions, setlists and now 130 boxes of Dylan’s formerly private papers is not the same as telling a good story. For someone innocently hoping to understand one of the

The Sixties vibe: Utopia Avenue, by David Mitchell, reviewed

There aren’t many authors as generous to their readers as David Mitchell. Ever since Ghostwritten in 1999, he’s specialised in big novels bursting with storytelling in all kinds of genres — most famously Cloud Atlas, where six very different novellas were immaculately intertwined. Not only that but, as he’s said, ‘each of my books is one chapter in a sort of sprawling macro-novel’, with many of the same characters and events being either updated or given fuller backstories. At its best, this generosity has resulted in some of the most lavishly satisfying fiction of recent times. Occasionally, though, it can feel rather like the type shown by Mrs Doyle in

Violence and infidelity on sun-drenched Hydra: A Theatre for Dreamers, by Polly Samson, reviewed

The beautiful Greek island of Hydra became home to a bohemian community of expats in the 1960s, including the Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and his Norwegian lover and muse Marianne Ihlen. The legacy of their relationship is the songs ‘So Long Marianne’, ‘Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye’ and ‘Bird on the Wire’. Their story is so intoxicating that it seems surprising it has not featured in a novel before, but perhaps others have been discouraged by the prospect of portraying someone as dauntingly well known as Cohen. Polly Samson rises beautifully to the challenge in her supremely accomplished A Theatre for Dreamers. She wisely does not introduce Cohen