Beautiful Losers Paperback – Apr 8 2003
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Leonard Cohen's 1966 Beautiful Losers is ambitiously filthy. Few Canadian novels before or since are as sexual, but there's more filth here than just squirming bodies. It is in fact the novel's psychological intimacy that will make you want a long, hot shower with astringent soap. Beautiful Losers is devoted exclusively to four characters, three of them points in a love triangle--the scholarly narrator, his Aboriginal wife Edith, and his lifelong "friend" and mentor F.--and the fourth a 17th-century Iroquois saint whose life the narrator obsessively researches. The protean, mercurial, and intense F. is a kind of artist of existence, one hopefully found more often in fiction than in reality. Though capable of buying a factory or winning an election, F. is often destitute and glad to rob sustenance and sex from his friends. He has taken the narrator as a protégé (or a victim) of his increasingly dangerous tests of desire. Surviving the hedonistic, self-destructive deaths of F. and the unfaithful Edith, the unnamed scholar even seems humiliated as narrator, as if he's cleaning up his own apartment after a party he didn't plan.
Canada has had a bumper crop of poet-novelist switch hitters: Margaret Atwood, Robert Kroetsch, Anne Michaels, Michael Ondaatje. Their novels are sure to dazzle with their language, but some readers may lower their expectations of plot and character. Similarly, Cohen the poet will snare you with his introverted, confessional prose, so easily lent to the aphorism. "Grief makes us precise." "What is most original in a man's nature is often that which is most desperate." "I am not enjoying sunsets, then for whom do they burn?" These dagger-like pensées, along with the sheer inscrutability of F., will sustain those readers who don't like sunshine (again, it's very claustrophobic inside this book), while plot purists may find the masturbatory plot, well, masturbatory. --Darryl Whetter --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
Dubbed "an unstructured, free-form, irreverent novel" ( LJ 4/1/66) by LJ 's reviewer, Beautiful Losers seemed too strange even for the Sixties. Nevertheless, the book went on to become a cult hit, selling more than 400,000 copies before going out of print. The novel is now being reissued to coincide with the upcoming publication of Cohen's Stranger Music. With its gay relationships, homages to Canadian Native Americans, and search for the meaning of life, this may now find wider acceptance in the mainstream. For public libraries.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The story's nameless narrator is scarred by the death of his wife, Edith, and of his best friend, F. As the three were part of a very strange romantic triangle, the posthumous revelations the narrator comes to during the course of the story are highly revealing and often shocking. As he mourns his wife, he cannot hide the fact that he was also in love with F. and his strange view on life.
A historian in disguise, the narrator is also doing research on an Native saint named Catherine, who's story is an echo of the things the narrator has went through and is going through. As these four chracters entertwine, and as more and more painful secrets are revealed, we are forced into a chaotic world where sense does not exist, where order and sanity are always at stake.
A highly poetic effort, Beautiful Losers ins't a book that should be read quickly. Just like the prose, the reader should take his time while reading it. It's too easy to miss the great irony and humour behind all the darkness and sadness of the prose. Cohen created a world where surrealism, sexuality and violence are part of the ordinary, where order seems to fail with a shocking consistancy and where disorder seems to rule.
The only criticism I have ever heard when discussing this book with others is that it is vulgar (and only from one person), and he completely dismissed the whole book on this basis. That completely misses the point. It does get vulgar, but the novel is about ordinary people finding enlightenment within the physical world, with all its blood and detritous, and finding hope amongst suffering vs. going up into the mountains and seeking a guru or denying the body as evil like the Cathars. It is about the spirituality that can be found even in the physical world. As a result, if you read it in a bad mood, it may at first reinforce your mood, but it will ultimately pull you out the other end and help you get through.
The book is disturbing at times and requires careful reading, but it is ultimately beautiful.
The answer, suprisingly, is yes. Beautiful Losers can nowhere be described as coherent. It is, at best semi-lucid prose coupled with oblique folk references, a melding of a surrealist love story with a more complex overlay of mythology and cultural humility.
At the bottom level, this is a story about a widower, his bisexual best friend, and a dead wife who slept with both of them.
Somewhere else, this book becomes spiritual. Haunted by exotic visions of the Catherine Tekakwitha, the Iroquois Virgin, the narrator puts context into politics and spiritualism. Tangled up in a scheme of self-discovery is a satire on Canadian politics and recrimination, a story of mourning, and an exploration of the forms of human cruelty.
We get it all.
The book is easy to put down, hard to read into, and still obsessively addictive. You will find yourself running his images through your head long after the cover is closed.
What is singular about this novel? One main characteristic: Cohen's writing is charged with a biblical rhetoric, and this biblical rhetoric he forces into intercourse with the things of our world: the slogans, spaces, politics and detritus of capitalist North America. The hard symphony wrought from these elements is authentic: they are raised into a lyric cry whose reality is grounded in Cohen's real spiritual need: his need for light, for revolution, for the real matrix from which miracles arise. This is rare indeed in postwar writers.
BEAUTIFUL LOSERS carries two major burdens. One of them is the specific spiritual legacy of the first native American saint: the Iroquois Catherine Tekakwitha. The other is that pan-Occidental question of how secular history, how the history that Enlightenment has taught us to see, relates to the divine realities we still know. It would be interesting to try to extract one historical philosophy from Cohen's many little hints. It is clear he places, or at one time placed, some hope in a kind of leftist Messianism. That wasn't odd for his generation. But there are glimpses also of his cynicism and despair, his suspicion that, in terms of the presence of the divine in the world, it will never get better than it is now: history is always a dreary constant: the Messiah will never come.
Most recent customer reviews
I could not get through this book. I picked it up for a book club, but it was definitely written for the 60s.Published 19 months ago by Christine
Funny, I was reading this book. I was dating a girl that looked like Catherine Tekakwitha, as described by Cohen. Might have wanted to live the same experiences. Did not. Read morePublished on Oct. 31 2012 by Marc-Andre Sharpe
Written more like poetry then a novel, Beautiful Losers was for me a very good book but also not very easy to read. Read morePublished on Feb. 2 2010 by tiziana
I bought this book out of reverence for the man who wrote Bird on a Wire and so much other incredible, passionate music. Read morePublished on Aug. 23 2001 by TomTommyC
While his songs and poetry are among some of my favorite, I must say I wish Cohen had written more novels. Beautiful Losers is brilliant in both conception and structure. Read morePublished on July 16 2001 by Okla Elliott
The language in Beautiful Losers may not be as prolifically dirty as it might first appear and once again we bow our heads to James Joyce but only for a second as we attempt to... Read morePublished on May 22 2001 by Paul Escu
I've been listening to Leonard Cohen for about a year. Yesterday I saw his book at Barnes & Noble and started reading. Read morePublished on July 16 2000 by James Pendley
I have seen images in this book I will never, ever forget. This book takes you places you never knew a mind could take you. Read morePublished on June 20 2000 by D. Harrison