A never-before-published early novel and stories by the legendary musician, songwriter, and poet Leonard Cohen. Readers will discover that the magic that animated Cohen's unforgettable body of work was present from the very beginning of his career. The pieces in this collection, written between 1956 and 1961 and including short fiction, a radio play, and a stunning early novel, offer startling insights into Cohen's imagination and creative process.
A grim fable ... While the novel is stirring in its almost mythological simplicity, compelling in its portrait of deranged rapture, intelligently attuned to the seductions and self-delusions of false transcendence, it is also structurally clumsy, hindered by a climactic twist and mechanically staged stock characters ... These same flaws afflict...the short fiction collected in A Ballet of Lepers. But unlike the early novel, many of these stories are built around striking images of frailty and desire ... In his lyrics, Cohen took the melodrama and solipsism that plagued his prose and alchemized them into something more moving and mysterious. Once he turned to songwriting, Cohen set fiction aside. Perhaps it was a purely strategic decision, or maybe he ultimately understood that it was not his form. If the pieces gathered in A Ballet of Lepers testify to this, they nonetheless offer nascent glimmers of his inimitable artistic vision: intimate yet aloof, trembling with weakness even as it aches toward wisdom.
A Ballet of Lepers is so rancid—flagrantly, deliberately—it almost seemed like an experiment in how dark his muse could take him ... A Ballet of Lepers was too degenerate for its time, but it’s hard to imagine it surfacing now ... Mixing the sacred and the profane and everything in between, [Cohen] became our John Donne ... He hadn’t gotten there yet in A Ballet of Lepers, but the integrity of the language is solid throughout.
The title piece...justifies the decision to bring these things to light and not only for the insights it offers into the artist that Cohen was to become. The novella is a strange confessional ... As ever in Cohen’s work, that inherited sense of anxiety and tragedy and religious weight of feeling...comes to be set against a dark wit and the intoxicating, troubling freedoms of the coming sexual revolution ... A curious and compulsive examination of the boundaries of honesty and cruelty.