Beautiful Losers – Leonard Cohen (1966)

Beautiful Losers is the second and final novel by Canadian writer and musician Leonard Cohen. It was published in 1966, before he began his career as a singer-songwriter. Set in the Canadian province of Quebec, the story of 17th-century Mohawk saint Catherine Tekakwitha is interwoven with a love triangle between an unnamed anglophone Canadian folklorist; his Native wife, Edith, who has committed suicide; and his best friend, the mystical F, a Member of Parliament and a leader in the Quebec separatist movement. The complex novel makes use of a vast range of literary techniques, and a wealth of allusion, imagery, and symbolism. It is filled with the mysticism, radicalism, sexuality, and drug-taking emblematic of the 1960s era, and is noted for its linguistic, technical, and sexual excesses. Cohen wrote the novel in two eight-month spurts while living on the Greek island of Hydra in 1964 and 1965. He fasted and consumed amphetamines to focus his creativity on the novel. Despite a lavish rollout, sales were disappointing, and critics were initially unsympathetic or hostile. The book gained critical and commercial attention only after Cohen had given up novel-writing and turned to the songwriting and performing upon which his fame rests today. Beautiful Losers has come to be seen as having introduced postmodernism into Canadian literature. It has become a steady seller, and is considered a part of the Canadian literary canon. … He had been living on the Greek island of Hydra in the early to mid-1960s, and had composed The Favourite Game and a book of poetry, Flowers for Hitler, there. On Hydra, English was spoken, and there was an artists’ colony there. Cohen wanted to write a ‘liturgy, a big confessional oration, very crazy, but using all the techniques of the modern novel … pornographic suspense, humor and conventional plotting’. Cohen wrote most of the novel during two concentrated eight-month periods in 1964 and 1965. He wrote using a typewriter in a house in Hydra while listening to a portable record player, on which he listened to his favourite Ray Charles record, The Genius Sings the Blues. At first he managed only three pages a day, and sometimes wrote only one hour a day. When the novel began to take shape, he worked up to fifteen hours a day, with the help of amphetamines. He later claimed that amphetamine use was a mistake ‘for depressed people’, as coming down was particularly hard. He said it took ‘ten years to fully recover’. …”
Visiting Hydra: Leonard Cohen’s Bohemian Idyll
Guardian – Leonard Cohen and Marianne Ihlen: the love affair of a lifetime
YouTube: Leonard Cohen reading an excerpt from Beatiful Losers

Marianne & Leonard

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Books and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s