Beautiful Losers by LEONARD COHENBeautiful Losers by LEONARD COHEN

Beautiful Losers


Paperback | April 8, 2003

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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.
Leonard Cohen was born in Montreal in 1934. He received his B.A. from McGill University and pursued graduate studies in English at Columbia University. Soon thereafter, he returned to Montreal and worked in his family’s clothing business while he continued to write poetry. His artistic career began in 1956 with the publication of Let U...
Title:Beautiful LosersFormat:PaperbackDimensions:264 pages, 8.35 × 5.36 × 0.71 inPublished:April 8, 2003Publisher:McClelland & StewartLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:077102200x

ISBN - 13:9780771022005

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Uniquely Cohen What a great and unique read, read it for Cal Lit in University and was one of my favourites
Date published: 2017-05-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not bad for a Class read Read this in Can lit class in University, was one of the better reads, very unique.
Date published: 2017-03-30
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Sex Drugs and 17th Century Native Saints! Wow, what to say first. Perhaps the only thing to say is that this NOT a book for the faint of heart. The sexuality of this novel is at once horribly exaggerated and incredibly honest. A short novel of long and rambling tangents, of dark and twisted minds and the ability to transport the reader into the sixties. All in all, and interesting but not particularly enjoyable read.
Date published: 2008-07-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Ugh While I will admit that there can be merit in this work, I am sad to say that I did not like it at all. I found it became too tedious with the characters whining about his obsession with early "Canadian sants" and sex. (Yes, the book was written in the 60's, a time of 'experimentation' both in social interactions and in literature, but I feel that is no excuse for bad writing.) A co-worker sympathizes with my opinion, claiming that he had to re-read it at a later time in his life before appreciating it. I will not give up entirely on this book (my first dive into Leonard Cohen), I intend to put it on my shelf and attack it at a later time, but it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Date published: 2007-12-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from the title tells all it took me over a year to finish reading this book - not of lack of time or motivation, but because each time i picked it up i never wanted it to end. each consecutive page i read made me increasingly more aware of its finality, and that was the only thing that was able to convince me to keep putting it back down: an unwillingness for it to end. i highly recommend it to any cohen-lovers.
Date published: 2005-12-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Magic Not Afoot, But Tricks Aplenty It is easy to sound profound. Write about religion in an indirect, vague sort of way and readers all over the globe will talk about the hidden, clever and ironic interpretation of God you have. Leonard Cohen’s been doing this for what, four decades or more? and no one has yet caught on. But geez, it sounds like I’m being harsh. Well despite the fact that I am a fan of most of his music and some of his poetry, I do feel harsh about this book. Beautiful Losers is bad, bad, bad writing. And before anyone suggests that I might be simply offended by the sexual content of this book, that isn’t the case. Page after page after page of vagina and penis references, this book is as boring (yes ,boring) as a Howard Stern show. Despite the fact that every sexual encounter you can probably think of (and some you probably can’t) fills this book, the obsession becomes monotonous! It is easy to sound profound. (Okay so this one’s not that easy.) Get yourself established as Canada’s poet for the next generation, become a critically acclaimed folk singer, and then any thought that comes to mind will be praised by millions who are either too sycophantic or too embarrassed to admit they don’t understand a word. I’m not exaggerating. There are pages where the narrator partakes in page after page of pure free association. But since he’s not on my couch and I’m not a psychologist, I don’t see why I should be interested. It is easy to sound profound. Make a character (or in this case, make several) insane. That way, you can get away with writing that jumps aimlessly from one topic or style to the next without reason because hey, they’re crazy. Isn’t that clever?! Melville got away with it in Moby Dick and Acquin did in The Next Episode, so why shouldn’t Cohen? It is easy to sound profound. Write an infinite number of similes or metaphors to describe the same object or event. Eventually one of these should sound witty. Actually, some of these I did like. The imagery was very inspiring at times. However, whereas this technique (or trick) works in shorter pieces, like Bird On A Wire, it becomes tedious and unnecessary in a novel. It’s like cancer in three generations. It’s like potato blight in P.E.I.. It’s like winter darkness. It’s like an Israeli occupation. It’s like a sermon on guilt. It’s like watching end credits for a song title. It’s like body odour in an elevator. It’s like a nude scene with your parents in the room. It’s like ice-fishing. It’s like…
Date published: 2005-03-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from One man's garbage...another's treasure I must confess. I was both amazed and appalled at this book. It was at once moving and disturbing. I found myself repetitively trowing the book down in disgust only to retrieve it out of sheer intruige and curiosity. Cohen manages to capture the imagination and the dark side of human urges in this wonderfully unique work.
Date published: 2003-08-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful Cohen I will always remember listening to old Cohen records on my fathers record player.I will always remember the conversations/dissections of his lyrics with good friends and old enemies.And now, I will never forget the places Leonard Cohen took my mind, yet once again.If you enjoy good lit. or even if you kind of like trashy paperbacks, this book is a must read. His lust for life and eagerness to use a foul tongue completly saturate this entire tale.I reached back into his past and renewed my love for Cohen.I suggest you read this book like I would suggest you pull the rip cord on your parachute!
Date published: 2000-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautifully Original... Very rarely do I come across a book that is so original and amazing at the same time. Written in a time of experimentation (the 60's) it was natural for writers to venture into new realms of the written word but very few seemed to write with the same strength and poetic beauty that is found within this novel. Highly recommended read for anyone who loves books!
Date published: 1999-10-02

Bookclub Guide

1. According to the dust jacket copy of the first edition of Beautiful Losers (which Cohen had a hand in writing), this novel is “a wild and alarming journey through the landscape of the soul” of an elderly Montréal scholar in the 1960s who tries to heal his loneliness and despair by finding living answers to the two great questions that open the book: “Catherine Tekakwitha, who are you?” and “Can I love you in my own way?” Why is he obsessed with Catherine Tekakwitha, an Iroquois girl whom the Jesuits converted in the seventeenth century, and the first Indian maiden to take an Oath of Virginity? Why does she inspire his love? Why does he connect and muddle her up with his own dead wife, Edith, who is an almost wholly sexual creature?2. The “old scholar” and “well-known folklorist” who is the unnamed narrator of Book I of the novel claims that “I am going to show you everything happening.” To do this, Leonard Cohen combines a variety of narrative forms – monologues, letters, journals, grammar books, advertisements, catalogues, footnotes – and conflicting styles – history, poetry, drama, dreams, montage. This both dazzles and confuses the reader. Does technical virtuosity succeed in making this book all the things that the original dust jacket claims it is: “a love story, a psalm, a Black Mass, a monument, a satire, a prayer, a shriek, a road map through the wilderness, a joke, a tasteless affront, an hallucination, a bore, an irrelevant display of diseased virtuosity, a Jesuitical tract, an Orange sneer, a scatological Lutheran extravagance, in short, a disagreeable religious epic of incomparable beauty”? Can any one book be all these things for one reader?3. As a love triangle, Beautiful Losers is the tale of an unnamed Jewish scholar, his wife Edith, and their friend and lover F., a Québécois MP who engages in anarchist activities on behalf of the separatist cause. The novel is divided into three Books: the Jewish scholar’s history of their relationships, F.’s long letter to his friend, and “Beautiful Losers,” an epilogue in the third person. Thus, both the male characters and the author’s mouthpiece get to have their say while Edith remains silent. What does this silence say about her place in a story that involves another very powerful woman? Do the ways in which Edith and Catherine Tekakwitha are treated reflect the position of women in history at the middle of the twentieth century?4. In traditional storytelling, names are used to define character. What purpose is served by not naming the central male characters? What is the point of not naming the vanishing tribe to which Edith belongs? What is the point of Edith’s name? Who or what does the initial F. suggest?5. Conventionally, plot develops over the course of a book but all the key events of Beautiful Losers are stated in the first few pages: the deaths of Edith and F., the beatification of Catherine Tekakwitha, the narrator’s character and task. How does Cohen use three different narrative voices to explore the relationships of four characters to each other? How does Cohen capture both the narrator’s various disorders and F.’s celebration of anarchy?6. The basic situation – the conflict between F. and the narrator – expands outward rather than progresses onward in order to incorporate more and more of the imagined and less and less of the real. Do the characters’ private beliefs make them greater than the world they inhabit? Do their beliefs finally distance them from their own bodies? Is this why both Edith and F. die?7. The relationships of each character to the others is set out in terms of teacher and pupil, master and disciple, but the roles transfer back and forth in both predictable and unpredictable ways. Is F. speaking as teacher or student or both, for himself or for all of them when he says, “Hysteria is my classroom”?8. In what ways does sharing their experiences of Edith as a lover bring the two men together? In what ways does it drive them apart? In what ways does it damage Edith?9. The narrator is troubled by his inability to say what he most wants to say. His history of the A--------s, the vanishing Indian tribe, is sidetracked by his own fears, frustrations, and sadness. In 1970, in one of the earliest and best essays written about Beautiful Losers, Michael Ondaatje wrote of the narrator that “his mind is locked by a kaopectate of formal history, of poetic art, of the strict rules of courtly love.” Is constipation the only parallel Cohen draws between the narrator’s physical and mental states? If not, then what are some of the others? Are we left to decide for ourselves whether the narrator is frozen by grief or paralyzed by madness?10. Book I is chock-a-block with clippings, advertisements, comics, odd facts, epigrams, reminiscences, interpretations of pop culture, which are at odds with the history the narrator is trying to write. The images are hilarious and the writing is wild and much of it is easily enjoyed just for itself. But what does all this contribute to Cohen’s larger purpose, the narrator’s quest for sainthood?11. What is a saint? Cohen has his narrator answer, “a saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility.… I think it has something to do with the energy of love.” What are the remote human possibilities that F., Edith, and Catherine Tekakwitha seek to achieve? Can they be stated systematically or can they only be suggested? What does it mean when it’s said that a saint travels through the world like “an escaped ski”?12. After the doubts, qualms, worries, reservations, fears, suspicions, uncertainties, attacks, tirades, invective, denunciations, rants, and harangues of the narrator, there’s a significant change of style in Book II. F. is a flamboyant, exuberant, fanatical, mad, bullying, politically charged sensualist who wants to break down all the limitations that thwart the narrator in his quest for sainthood. By reconstructing the story of Edith’s death in ways that destroy the narrator’s physical and mental constipation, F. makes it possible for him (and us) to see Catherine Tekakwitha in new ways. What does F. show us about Catherine in his lucid account of her final four years that was missing from the narrator’s version of her?13. Despite his embrace of anarchy and hysteria, F. is obsessed by systems, especially world systems such as Christianity. He says, “Jesus probably designed his system so that it would fail in the hands of other men.” Is this, as F. suggests, the way “the greatest creators… guarantee… their own originality”?14. The System Theatre is the site of many of the key scenes in the book. It is a place where systems break down, starting with its own neon sign which flashes “stem Theatre, stem Theatre.” “Stem,” as Stephen Scobie (an astute commentator on all things Cohen) has pointed out, is the last word of Cohen’s other novel, The Favourite Game, and reappears in his songs and poems. When systems break down and rational structures disintegrate, does the stem represent the possibility for growth that appears? What is the stem that Cohen’s characters find within what remains of the native religious traditions of the Mohawk after its system has been destroyed by the Catholic Church?15. It can be argued that the sex scene in the hotel room in Argentina is the key that finally and fully unlocks both the transcendental meaning and the low comedy of the book. This parody of an orgy is bizarre, wildly incongruous, silly, uproarious, side-splitting, weighty, intense, extreme, and sincere. Why doesn’t the scene end when the Danish Vibrator is unplugged? Has it become eternal? Has Edith made a sympathetic gesture to Hitler before revealing herself as Isis? Who is Isis? What does it mean for Edith to be Isis rather than some other goddess?16. Given the narrator’s deep distrust of the Catholic Church for its puritanical inability to accept native sexuality, why is the end of the book “rented” to the Jesuits?17. In Book III, all individuality is lost and the narrative becomes impersonal. Why does the beautiful loser transcend himself only at the moment he loses everything? Is this the only way to escape history?18. Beautiful Losers can be read allegorically as a political fable. Hugh MacLennan’s “two solitudes” are replaced by two solitary madmen who keep jerking each other around until the beautiful woman who is meant to unite them is utterly lost through too much history on one side and too much transcendence on the other. As a fable, it’s an absolutely brutal satire that offers a clearer view of the peculiarities of Canadian repressiveness than anything else written in English in that period: the English are unresponsive to the French but the French are merciless to the Iroquois and the Jews don’t do themselves any good. Does its political satire still find its mark forty years later?

Editorial Reviews

“Fuses sexuality with spirituality… mystical and profane, poetic and obscene … an invitation to play Russian roulette with a phallic pistol.”–Kirkus Reviews“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.”–Boston Herald“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