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Beautiful Losers [Paperback]

Leonard Cohen
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 8 2003
One of the best-known experimental novels of the 1960s, Beautiful Losers is Cohen’s most defiant and uninhibited work. The novel centres upon the hapless members of a love triangle united by their sexual obsessions and by their fascination with Catherine Tekakwitha, the 17th-century Mohawk saint.

By turns vulgar, rhapsodic, and viciously witty, Beautiful Losers explores each character’s attainment of a state of self-abandonment, in which the sensualist cannot be distinguished from the saint.


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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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars World of Beauty March 4 2002
Format:Paperback
Songwriter/singer/poet/novelist Leonard Cohen is a writer who, through the use of a few words alone, can send a thousand different emotions and images through your head. His writing is powerful and touching, though often too poetic. Beautiful Losers is, in fact, a poem disguised as a novel. It is a postmodernistic work of Canadian fiction that, although beautiful, refuses to make sense.
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.
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1.0 out of 5 stars I could not get through this book. I picked ... July 5 2014
Format:Paperback
I could not get through this book. I picked it up for a book club, but it was definitely written for the 60s.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Catherine Tekakwitha Oct. 31 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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. Now I've driven her away. Cheers Catherine Tekakwitha for your sainthood. I'll never be a saint. It's a great poem, by a great Canadian singer, songwriter, writer and just plain Canadian icon. Period.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful May 18 2001
Format:Paperback
Beautiful Losers is really a poem disguised as a novel. The farther you get into the book, the more stream of consciousness it becomes. Basically, it is about a man who has suffered great loss finding redemption amidst the turmoil of 1960s Quebec. It also is the story about an indigenous woman obtaining sainthood during the turmoil of the age of exploration.
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing to find this in print! Aug. 31 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I read this book in the sixties during a painful, searching time in my youth. At the time, the book had a powerful formative effect. As I recall, it was extremely moving, but its most profound impact was not in the detail, but in a sort of metaphysical reaction to the story as a whole. As time past, and I thought I had learned all my lessons, "grown up," (though at times I would recall the character F as, like him, I would hum Great Pretender). So I really didn't give this sort of thing a thought any longer. But now, it seems to me again that Cohen has something to teach about the lessons that maybe I didn't actually complete as well as I thought. I would like to hear more about his life in his zen retreat. I'm glad this book is back.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars YUCK!!!! Sept. 22 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I had to read this book for a university course onCanadian novels, so I couldn't throw it away or burn it as I would have liked to do. It is without a doubt the most painful and difficult book I've ever had to read. It is without question Cohen is a master at what he does--not just anyone could leave such a lasting distate in my mouth more than six years after I read the book! However, the subject matter, the style, the imagery, and especially the various kinds of loveless sex...everything seems to feel terribly sick and twisted, and the overall impression the book leaves is one of profound and lasting oppression.
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5.0 out of 5 stars leonard cohen Feb. 2 2010
By tiziana
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Written more like poetry then a novel, Beautiful Losers was for me a very good book but also not very easy to read. Anyone that is interested in reading something outside the box and is not offended by sexual language, then you will enjoy the book. I loved the story of Catherine Tekadwitha, a seventh century mohawk saint that the author refers to throughout the book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A True Contemporary Master July 16 2001
Format:Paperback
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. Cohen's use of historical and religious data is truly innovative. His depiction of Canada is likewise wonderful. For fans of such literary greats as Thomas Pynchon, Gore Vidal, and Henry Miller, Beautiful Losers will simultaneously be a mental scrambling, an intellectual feast, and an emotionally staggering event. Read this book; it belongs to those books that truly matter.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars I Love This Guy, but He Really Should Stick to Music
I bought this book out of reverence for the man who wrote Bird on a Wire and so much other incredible, passionate music. Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2001 by TomTommyC
1.0 out of 5 stars Brave exploration
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 more
Published on May 22 2001 by Paul Escu
5.0 out of 5 stars IT__WILL__FRIGGIN__BLOW__YOU__AWAY
I've been listening to Leonard Cohen for about a year. Yesterday I saw his book at Barnes & Noble and started reading. Read more
Published on July 16 2000 by James Pendley
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gateway to Dreams and Nightmares....
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 more
Published on June 20 2000 by D. Harrison
5.0 out of 5 stars A Work Of Poetic Genius By Leonard Cohen
When this book was first published in the mid-sixties, the NewYork Times reviewer said that he had discovered that James Joycewasn't dead; he was alive and writing in Montreal... Read more
Published on May 26 2000 by Barron Laycock
4.0 out of 5 stars Magic is Afoot
Forget for a moment Cohen the poet, Cohen the prophet, Cohen the musician. The question remains: "Is Cohen a good novelist?"
The answer, suprisingly, is yes. Read more
Published on May 22 2000 by "hannah1350n"
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