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
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