Beautiful Losers – Leonard Cohen, copyright 1966.
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Source: Personal Collection – Bought New (regrettably)
I can’t wait any longer, I need to tell you about an assault on my senses that took place yesterday. After finishing up I Do Not Come to You by Chance, by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, I started into Beautiful Losers by Grammy-winning, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen. I had only recently discovered Cohen’s music. This is slightly embarrassing to admit, as Cohen is supposed to be a pretty big deal for Canadians. While researching some of his music I stumbled upon the realization that Cohen had also done a great deal of writing, mostly poetry, but also a couple of novels.
I should have clued in to what a weird experience Beautiful Losers was going to be, when I discovered that it was one of the best known experimental novels of the 1960s. It’s not that I don’t like stuff that’s different, but this was waaaay out there. I started the book yesterday morning and finished up shortly thereafter on page 68, when I decided I simply couldn’t stomach the rest of it. The stream of conscious writing style moves so rapidly and erratically that I feared I was going to give in to the perils of motion sickness. What I gathered from the few pages I read, is that Cohen’s protagonist is a lonely, sex crazed academic who has an obsession with the Mohawk woman Catherine Takakwitha, an early Christian convert from the mid 17th century. He outlines all of the things he would like to do to this young lady as well as enlightening us to his past sexual encounters with both his wife (who commits suicide by waiting patiently at the bottom of an elevator shaft) and his best male friend. All of these encounters, real and imaginary, are lain out for us in excessively explicit detail. There are three pages dedicated to a run-on, stream of conscious single sentence describing the experience of performing oral sex on his wife. I’m a very giving person, so allow me to share the tamest part of said three page sentence:
“…I go down maybe where I meant to go like a snail this automatic tongue slides down the aquarium moss shoot there is a ridge tender and yielding as the casting join of a hollow chocolate bunny I ride it down don’t be ashamed all smells are alchemized tongue goes ring around a rosy lifesaver flavour mud candy this is a better common button we both have…” Beautiful Losers, Page 67.
Are you starting to understand why I packed it in after 68 pages? I absolutely deplore it when I begin a novel and am unable to finish, but c’est la vie. Speaking of which, if your French isn’t up to snuff, that’s another perfectly good reason to stay away from this one. There were at least half-a-dozen sentences in French in these first pages, none of which came with any sort of translation. With my limited knowledge of French, I was able to make an educated guess at some of them.
I hate to give Cohen such a hard time on his work because he is a wonderful musician and this was an experimental novel, after all. I indeed discovered some profound words within these pages, but the profound was too quickly drowned in the profane. As I only read a quarter of this book, I am not going to attempt to rate it. I don’t feel it fair for me to rate a work that I was not man enough to endure. I will place it back on the shelf for now, marking my point of departure and perhaps someday (when I understand more about Leonard Cohen) I will return.