on June 6, 2005
The Favorite Game is the book I should have picked up before reading Beautiful Losers. It is as if the stylistic experiments Cohen attempted in his second novel make far more sense now. However, having said this I must add that this is the more entertaining and enjoyable work.
This book is about romance. It is always entertaining to hear people talk about love, affection, adoration even fixation as being something only people can have for one another. Lawrence Breavman (the protagonist) feels this way about his life and the many persons and places that populate it. Lisa, Tamara, Shell and the city of Montreal, all are adored by this young man. He loves his best friend Krantz with whom he begins an empassioned dialogue unveiling the many layers of Montreal and Quebecois life oscillating around him in both the city and out in the Laurentian highlands. Breavman truly treats the world as "other." It is beautiful to witness.
There is mysticism in this work. The way Breavman notices the angles of sunlight on his beloved mountain, the colors of the surface of the Saint Lawrence and then the Hudson. The park that he walks through each night and protects. The color of the snow under the moonlight and the sound it gives off when he and a young Lisa are walking home from Hebrew School. Each of these things is as vivid as the young man's search for a partner, for sexual fulfillment. As in Cohen's later work, beauty and grotesqueness and filth coexist and are both the possession of his protagonist's soul. Breavman wanders endlessly through his city (Montreal) taking in every detail he can. His friend Krantz acknowledges -one summer night- that they would walk endlessly and never sleep if they were to follow Breavman's whims, his aesthetic eye, the contours of his persistent and ever unfolding dialogue.
This is a beautiful story. Like James Joyce, Cohen has taken up the development of the young artist's personal aesthetic sense (and appetite). Joyce made the distinction between "fetishism" and admiration for beauty in The Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man. Stephen Daedalus didn't want to possess beauty, he wanted to really learn how to admire it, appreciate it, recreate it if he could. Lawrence Breavman wants to appreciate beauty as well and he moves beyond merely desiring to possess what he sees. He may pause and admire the infinite little details of being in the world, but he learns to never possess but to engage. His dialogue is an engagement with beauty that, interestingly, supersedes his literary career. The young man, like Stephen Daedalus, is an emerging artist. But his dialogue is what Cohen cares about and his peregrinations, his questions and escapades are all the real art. Stephen Daedalus learned that he could recreate the world in his imagination and then place this on paper and by doing so, would have done his aesthetic duty, would have engaged the world. In Cohen's account, we see the artist as wanderer, as more than reticent observer. But he is no fetishist, he does not need to drown in sensual pleasures. Life is sensual for him. Life is enduring and eternal and he needs no false Gods to redeem him from a fallen state or from desolation.
Five stars. At times this work is breathtaking.
on February 22, 2000
The Favourite Game is wistful and sentimental (in a good way), well-written, fun to read, and especially evocative in recreating the early 1960's in urban North American and Montreal in particular. It's a coming-of-age novel in the Salinger vein, following a Young Bright Man (too young for the Beats) and his midadventures. This is only Cohen work that could be optioned for the movies (and succeed as a movie, too). Not as heartbreaking as Cohen's other work, more straightforward than Beautiful Losers, The Favourite Game is arty entertainment that's worth taking on the train or to the beach. (And cheap, too!)
on July 31, 2000
This novel is charming, and is a must-read for any Cohen fan, whether fanatical or merely curious. It reads like well-wrought and sophisticated free-verse poem, but is highly novelistic in its content. What is presumed to be misogyny by Cohen's critics is made to feel, if not natural, then reasonable, and understandable. Readers are invited in to his self-explication and self-exploration; he carries us through a maquette of his youth and his young-adulthood. (Remember, he wrote this when he was in his late twenties.) He may be criticized for romanticizing his past, but any such faltering from the truth is attributable to his writing style, and that he changed some details for novelistic reasons (it is not intended to be an actual autobiography). Those who are familiar with Cohen's lifetime and writings will recognize his "larger than life" persona in this novel, as the protagonist Lawrence Breavman, as a near-replica of Cohen's self, a self that is the self that Cohen enjoys painting for his readership via his writing and interviews. This novel presents an interesting view of a famous person's understanding of who he is, and of his personal philosophies.
on February 10, 2006
This is quite possibly my favorite book.
As a fan of Mister Cohen and the city of Montreal, I loved this book. Mind you this was written before his musical career. You can actually see some of the songs forming way before they were committed to tape.
That being said, I love Cohen's Montreal, the late night drives, the small little dives and parks.
Also this is Cohen's best expample of wrestling with his Jewishness.
Simply an amazing book and an amazing read.
If you like Salinger, Cohen's music or the city of Montreal itself, you need to read this.
on August 2, 2003
As a woman in her mid-twenties this has been quite a revelation for me. It has opened my eyes in so many ways with regard to men and their nature, and I mean this in a kind and tender way. Growing up I have passed myself through many of the stages that Lawrence is going through, from the sexual awakening to the loss of spiritual innocence, yet the occasional paragraphs to which I cannot instantly relate make for the key to the enigmatic difference between man and woman. A must for any passionate of human nature.
on May 2, 2003
This is a book that few people other than Leonard Cohen would ever dare to write -- or even be able to imagine; especially in the early 60's -- but which, for him, is a fairly straight-forward work. Much more literal and novelistic than Beautiful Losers, Cohen's second novel, and far less obscure than most of his poetry, The Favorite Game is the ideal entry point into Cohen's writing. Cohen write very provocative, very beautiful, highly lyrical poetic prose that is not for everyone. Some will be turned off by the frequent use of allusion and metaphor and the not-always-linear narrative structure; however, for those who like literate, poetic writing, Cohen is a goldmine. Whereas Beautiful Losers and much of his later poetry is very abstract, The Favorite Game is a novel in a traditional and familar form -- the coming-of-age of a young man -- but done in a highly unique and endearing fashion. The language used in the novel is strikingly beautiful, and uniquely Cohen. His writing is of a style that I can only describe as the mastery of Joyce crossed with the eroticism of Miller. He is very frank and candid about sexual matters; but, unlike those two authors, he writes about it in such a way that it is erotic as well as artful and beautiful. The book is also very funny in the uniquely Cohen way -- drier than a bone. Like most of Cohen's works, this is highly autobiographical, and most of us -- certainly those who have experienced either side of love -- will be able to identify with much of it. One might even call it the Canadian Catcher In The Rye, although its literacy and pretentions to high artfulness render it less transcendent than that American masterpiece. Still, for all Cohen fans, this is an absolute must; for readers unfamilar with or curious about the author, it is the ideal place to start.
on March 7, 2002
What a genius Lenny is! Having struggled through the wild magnificence of Beautiful Losers, this novel was a breeze... Each sentence is amazing. Not a single word is wasted. This IS the essence of Leonard Cohen. I love his music, but his written word is something else. This is an intense, honest, and poetic novel. It is art.
on January 8, 2005
I was forced to read this book in my English 101 in college. Having only known Leonard Cohen by reputation, I was reticent of reading it but I did because I had to. At the end, though, I learned to appreciate this book because everything made sense and I started relating to his character. It's quite touching. Having seen Ghost World about a year after, it reminded me of this book, same basic, same principal of being disappointed by the poeple you care about and not being able to accept those changes. I suggest you read this book, it's a good read and a good intrusion into the mind of a little boy growing up.
on December 18, 2012
The fact that the great Leonard Cohen wrote this book should have clued me in for its intensely lyrical prose, but I was continually taken aback by his words. Although somewhat vague and definitely heady at times, most of this mostly autobiographical novel was astounding in its stunning use of wording. It reminded me at times of my favorite novel of all time, "Light Years" by James Salter. I am now looking forward to reading Cohen's other novel "Beautiful Losers".
on April 27, 2010
Beautiful Losers, published in 1968, is the Cohen novel you may have heard of. Its subject is murky --- a French-Canadian nun, dead 300 years, is being considered for sainthood --- and the writing is a lush, dense thicket. There's no bigger Cohen fan than this writer, but I found it tough going. Four decades after its publication, I have no longing to revisit it.
But The Favorite Game --- Cohen's first novel, published in 1963, when he was 29 --- charmed me 40 years ago, and still does. It doesn't lack for poetry, and the plot isn't much. At the very least, it's the closest thing we'll ever get to a memoir of Cohen's youth.
But "the Favorite Game" is more than a Canadian, Jewish "Catcher in the Rye." Cohen's stand-in, Lawrence Breavman, is a brooding Jewish boy learning to make his way in the world by sucking experience dry. His education is written on the bodies of women, then erased when he moves on. And he always moves on. You may find this obnoxious. I used to be that boy; I'll cut him some slack.
Start in Montreal, where the Breavmans are rich. Which is not to say happy, or close to. Mr. Breavman is fat and ill; Mrs. Breavman is a major league neurotic. Lawrence spends as little time with them as possible --- he and his best friend, Krantz, are into deep explorations of the world, which starts and ends with girls.
"Seven to eleven is a huge chunk of life, full of dulling and forgetting." Then the girls of youth sprout breasts, and Breavman "marveled that he had ever kissed the mouth that now mastered cigarettes." He finds a pair of fur gloves; masturbation becomes sublime.
Later, there is hypnotism: "He unbuttoned his fly and told her she was holding a stick." Still later, college: "He couldn't believe his hands. The kind of surprise when the silver paper comes off the triangle of Gruyere in one piece."
From seventeen to twenty, Tamara is his mistress. She's the woman he'll always return to, the woman who accepts every word and touch. Though it's really not that simple --- "they were cruel to one another." Tears. Silences. "He hated himself for hurting her and hated her for smothering him." Bed became "like a prison surrounded by electric wires."
Graduation. The inevitable breakup with Tamara. Long midnight car rides with Krantz. Breavman's first book of poems. His undeserved reputation: "Canadians are desperate for a Keats." He reads for every group that will invite him, "slept with as many chairwoman as he could." And flees to New York.
Shell is from Connecticut. Rich. WASP, of course. Smith College, of course. Married at 19 to Gordon Ritchie Sims. Who, in five years, cannot bring himself to sleep with her. She is sitting with her newly acquired lover when Breavman spots her. He fills napkins with poems. Stands before her and declares her beautiful.
"I'm married," she says.
"No, no, I don't think you are."
So it begins, the romance the entire book has been pointing toward. Music and poetry, long walks and intimate silences. How does it end? What is the favorite game? What does it have to with Shell?
And more: What is the price of tenderness? How do we stop running --- running from, running toward? If language is such a blessing, why do we use it to deceive? When innocence departs, where does it go?
Sound familiar? It should --- these are the issues of our romances. Our glory, our shame, unspooling before us. Cohen has no answers. But he has a way of presenting the questions that will --- for some readers, anyway --- pierce the heart.