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on March 4, 2002
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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on August 31, 2001
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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on May 22, 2000
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. 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.
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on September 17, 1998
Cohen is the real thing, and his novel was a major find for me. Published in 1966--the year of my birth--BEAUTIFUL LOSERS shows a lyrical power that puts to shame all those other writers of the "Beat Generation." The novel is haunting and lyrical in the highest of North American modes. Cohen's is a tone and yearning that stands out.
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.
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on May 18, 2001
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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on October 8, 1998
Cohen operates in many guises, balancing notions of beauty and brutal testimony like a clown racing to earth to his death. Beautiful Losers is a book that best illustrates this, in the worlds of discovery and recovery, where the author's imaginative surges do not discriminate. That is, his book demonstrates a courage whereby the writer fights to stay open eyed depite the object or direction of his consciousness.
Similarily as a reader, I believe that such effort is required if the full impact of the book is to be experienced. Close the book, and you effectively demonstrate the central notion. Burn the book, and the inner embers of your life will choke you, before distroying you.
Yet if you stick with the book, and endure its crudities, focusing upon the the strange journeys the characters make in their private lives... one might just overcome becoming a beautiful loser.
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on April 28, 1999
As soon as you open this book, you are drawn into a beautiful, disturbing, enchanting, harrowing and humerous world. The images are startlingly intense, and due to the sheer number of them, it sometimes takes an enormous amount of time to reach the end of each page. The reader is required to give serious consideration to every sentence in order to fully aprechiate the meaning and feeling behind it. I was frequenly astonished that such a work of art seems to have come so fluently from a human mind, but having previously experienced his utterly beautiful songs, I should expect no less. Cohen here prooves his talents extend to the writing of novels, as well as poetry. I thoroughly recommend this book, and if you do not go into it with an open mind, you will certainly come out of it with one.
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on August 22, 1999
The characters are stark and real. Their lives are complex. The world is chaotic. Mr. Cohen along with his predecessor, Irving Layton, are the proof that Canada to has a marvellous ability to speak to the counterculture. Few individuals beyond perhaps Kerouac, Salinger and Cohen could create something so surreal and ugly that is so remarkably beautiful. Cohen is a tactile writer as only a poet can be. The saddest thing about the book is that it is lost in the shadow of a music career that pales beside the genius of this prose. A masterpiece of poetic prose and the Canadian equal of On The Road.
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on June 20, 2000
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. Some words of Warning, If you are looking for the style Cohen uses while writing his songs, you will not find it here in this book. What you will find is the nightmarish journey of one woman into sainthood, and three people pushing sanity to it's limit. I have to say this is one of the best novels I have ever read. You have to give it at least 50 pages before you start figuring out what's going on. But once the book takes off there's no going back your in for a ride.
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on July 16, 2000
I've been listening to Leonard Cohen for about a year. Yesterday I saw his book at Barnes & Noble and started reading. The first page without the context of the next two is completely unintelligible. I almost put it back down. Then, in an instant, with one phrase, he transformed the nonsense I thought I was reading into beautiful truth. His power as a writer is usurpassed. With sickly dramatic rant he paints a portrait of you, whoever you are. The darker corners you don't tell anyone about, in plain view under a brilliantly twisted light. One of the greatest books of all time.
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