It is quite hard to know where to begin with this book, as it is quite an oddity. The easiest way I think would be to explain some sort of background, give a loose explanation of a plot, and put down some thoughts about the overall work.
To begin with, the author is Leonard Cohen. If you are not sure who he is, then I am pretty sure you will have heard at least one of his songs. He is the Canadian singer songwriter responsible for a lot of moody songs over the last 40+ years, working with the likes of Joni Mitchell and Andy Warhol amongst others. If nothing else, he is responsible for authoring 'Hallelujah', the song with more covers than a book shop. Before he made all these recordings (he is still working now to the best of my knowledge - certainly he was touring in 2010), he wrote a couple of books. This is the second of those.
Published in 1966, the plot is somewhat thin on the ground, and roughly involves the love triangle of the narrator, his wife, and their friend. It also follows the sainthood of a Native American woman, Catherine Tekakwitha, whom the narrator is an authority on.
However, this book is not really about the story. Many of the biographical 'facts' are clearly made up, sentences sometimes run to a lengthy paragraph, and at least one of the characters probably does not exist anyway. Confused? You will be if you read this book. Cohen himself seems to acknowledge this, and dependant on the version you may read, you may get to see his sleeve liner which is fairly apologetic about the whole affair. He actively encourages you not to pore over details in a lingering fashion, but to drop in and out of the book in a way that suits you at the time. In the end I found this was probably the easiest way to get through the book. In doing so, you take in themes of death, sex, constipation, self-flagellation, religion, independence, power, love - your average walk in the park I'd say.
The book has been described as 'coarse, rhapsodic and bitingly witty', 'revolting', 'challenging' and many other things besides. Some have even gone as far as comparing him to Joyce due to his 'stream of consciousness' style employed intermittently in this work. I personally found some comparisons to William Burroughs and his 'Wild Boys'. The thing is, despite this being described as the first Canadian post-modernist novel, I personally believe he has just used style and ideas already employed by the afore-mentioned authors, and made a mess of them. It is very sexual in nature, and to be fair, quite funny in its own way - I am particularly reminded of the Danish dildo which takes on a life of its own when it learns to feed on its activities, and is last seen heading for the ocean. There is also the occasional idea which doesn't seem to have been plagiarised from others, and actually works well enough. However, for me, this does not justify the self-indulgent nonsense that is the mainstay of the book.
If you are a fan of Cohen's musical work, and think this would broaden your understanding of his material, then I would definitely think twice before committing any time to reading this book. This is different in style, and is much more experimental, and it is probably more realistic to classify this as a long poem than a novel. All said and done, if you fancy something very different from your average novel, don't mind explicit sexual content, and are happy to roll along with the language without really knowing what is going on, then maybe this could add some texture to your reading life. Certainly, Cohen has been bold, if nothing else.
For myself, I think Cohen says it best himself - 'dear reader, forgive me if I have wasted your time'.