- Paperback: 280 pages
- Publisher: New Canadian Library (Feb. 1 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0771098758
- ISBN-13: 978-0771098758
- Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 10.8 x 17.8 cm
- Shipping Weight: 136 g
- Average Customer Review: 27 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #221,692 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Beautiful Losers Paperback – Feb 1 1991
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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
“Fuses sexuality with spirituality… mystical and profane, poetic and obscene … an invitation to play Russian roulette with a phallic pistol.”
“Cohen is a writer of terrific energy and colour, a Rabelaisian comic and a visualizer of memorable scenes.”
–London Observer (U.K.)
“Brilliant, explosive, a fountain of talent.… James Joyce is not dead … he lives under the name of Cohen … writing from the point of view of Henry Miller.”
“A fantasied eroticism which is wildly funny.… An exciting book.”
–Sunday Times (U.K.)
“The literary counterpart of Hair on the stage and Easy Rider on the screen.”
–Daily Telegraph (U.K.)
“Leaves one gasping for breath as well as suitable words.… Cohen is a powerful, poetic writer.”
–Dallas Times Herald
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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 title comes from one of his earlier poems, which having a mysterious coda of "So you're the kind of vegetarian/ Who only eats roses/ Is that what you mean't/ with your beautiful losers?". Given that context, this title refers to the cast of incredibly beautiful losers at life's game in this fantastic cruise through Cohen's imagination and a stream of consciousness. I promise, this trip will be quite unlike anything you have ever experienced in print. It revolves around four characters, three of whom are dead, one of whom is a French-Canadian Indian nun who's been dead for over three hundred years, and who's currently being considered for cannonization by the Cathloic Church. From its opening question, "Catherine Tekakawitha, who are you?" to his final plea to "poor men, poor men such as we, they've gone and fled", this is a book that will leave you breathless.
This is one book you should run out to buy, but also is one for a long and slow reading. On virtually every page is a stream of word pictures best experienced fully and deliberately. Don't pick this one for your book report, kids, it is a four letter word tirade, and an exploration into the grittiest aspects of life. it is at turns hilarious, hysterical, profound, mystical, and absolutely unbelievable. For Cohen, "God is alive, and magic is afoot", and nowhere is his power of observation moe powerful than in this novel.
I remember having read it in hardcover in the mid-sixties and then passed it on to a friend, who of course passed it on and so on. So I lost the hardcover forever, but began a life of loving serious and well-written literature. This is a book for the ages, friend, one you can pick up and read a page at random at any moment and still enjoy completely. At the risk of committing the terrible sin of hyperbole, this is a wonderful work of art, and will last for centuries. Read it now, and then read it later. It ages very well. Like "Ulysses", or "Finnegan's Wake', or "Death In Venice", it is a one of a kind experience. Enjoy.
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