Samantha Harvey is an impressive and much lauded author whose first novel, The Wilderness (2009), deals with the deterioration of a mind by Alzheimer’s disease and whose second novel, All Is Song (2012), is about moral and filial duty.
Her third book, Dear Thief (2014), is written in the form of a long letter from a woman to her absent friend, detailing the emotional fallout of a love triangle. In an extraordinary feat of deduction, Guardian reviewer, Claire Kilroy, sussed out the basis of Dear Thief – Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat. The pertinent excerpt from that review follows:
Why is this voice so evocative, I found myself wondering. Why is it (literally, as it happens) striking a chord? The answer is Leonard Cohen.
Dear Thief is a novelisation of Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat”, a song about a love triangle, which is also presented as a letter to the third party who broke up a marriage. Both letters are started at four in the morning at the end of December. Harvey’s narrator sits at a desk in Goodge Street, London, not Clinton Street, New York. It’s cold and she is no longer in the family home, but she likes her apartment – there’s music all evening from the jazz bar down the road. Butterfly wears a shawl, which over the years becomes filthy and torn at the shoulder, like the blue raincoat of Cohen’s song. Both letter-writers wonder whether their old friend is better yet, for both the marriage-wreckers have demons. Both are now living in a house in the desert. And, of course, there is the lock of hair.
This is not to say that Dear Thief achieves its emotional power because of the song – I connected the two some time after I had finished the book. The novel had left an imprint in its own right. Dear Thief is written in the same key as the song – a minor and melancholic one, which captures a heady, elegiac combination of eroticism and loss, loathing and rapture, the messy complexity of a spurned woman’s emotional landscape. Harvey’s narrator watches her beloved friend seduce her husband – “somebody we love has loved someone else more, and we feel swiped aside like a skittle” – and although she is unable to forgive her friend for stealing her future, she is unable to stop caring about her either.
And, in a review just published yesterday, the novelist confirms Cohen’s classic song as her direct inspiration and elaborates on it:
Interviewer: I read a review in The Guardian that the book is based on Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat,” and I was wondering if that was the original inspiration for the book—or did you realize it as you were writing it?
Samantha Harvey: No, that was the original inspiration. In fact, the reviewer in The Guardian worked that out for herself. She was quite the canny reviewer. I had to tell my publicist that that’s what it was about. You know, it’s what it was based on. I don’t think she’d relayed that. So it was definitely worked out by the reviewer. But yeah, that’s what it was based on and I’ve kind of always been curious about the fact that we have cover songs, cover novels, so I thought I’m going to cover a song with a novel. I didn’t have the guts to actually call the book “Famous Blue Raincoat,” or the permission. Obviously I wanted to take it in my direction and it’s its own thing and it became much more robust as we moved along. But that was the initial starting point for it, yeah. Absolutely.