Monday, January 4, 2010

The Favorite Game by Leonard Cohen (1963)

I had the fabulous late night conversation "if you could have dinner with any famous person, past or present, who would you choose?" discussion on New Year's Eve... Rosie O'Donnell, Tiger Woods and Obama came up as contemporary choices.

Leonard Cohen is my pick...

The Favourite Game is an autobiographic coming-of-age novel about a young man who discovers his identity through writing, set in Montreal, and later New York. The story is gritty, raw, and unflinchingly honest. (let the reader beware...) However painful, or awkward the moment, Cohen has a magic way of describing events with few words that create the scene so completely. Cohen's writing process, he told an interviewer in 1998, is "like a bear stumbling into a beehive or a honey cache: I'm stumbling right into it and getting stuck, and it's delicious and it's horrible and I'm in it and it's not very graceful and it's very awkward and it's very painful and yet there's something inevitable about it." (from Wikipedia) Aside from being a notorious recluse, Cohen is reputed to be ruthless about his own writing- crossing out more and more words until less than 1/4 of his original work is left over.

That ruthless revision pays off in passages like this:
"They held hands tightly and watched the stars in the dark part of the sky; where the moon was bright they were obliterated. She told him she loved him. A loon went insane in the middle of the lake." (pg 32)

And this description of a brass foundry:
"Breavman gasped at the brightness of the liquid metal. It was the colour gold should be. It was as beautiful as flesh. It was the color of gold he though of when he read the word in prayers or poems. It was yellow, alive and screaming. It poured out in an arch with smoke and white sparks. He watched the man move up and down the rows, dispensing this glory. He looked like a monolithic idol. No, he was the true priest." (pg 111)

Or this:
" Sometimes a poem would catapult him away from her, but she learned how to approach him, equipped with what he had taught her about her body and her beauty. It was a refusal to be where he was, to accept the walls, the clock, the number on the door which he knew, the familiar limited human being in the familiar limited chair." (pg 140) He's been writing and is in an artistic funk... and she "approaches" him. That says soo much more than it says, yes?

A fascinating novel... you'll laugh, you'll squirm. A fascinating Canadian.

"It's the kind of book that becomes a law unto itself, simply because there is nothing with which to compare it." - says the Calgary Albertan

Who would you want to have over for dinner?


  1. Mom would probably agree. She always liked his singing. I've not heard her about his writing, except maybe some poetry. Maybe I'll have to give it a try one of these days, although I find I've read more novels in the past few months than for many years.
    Here's the list:
    The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
    The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
    The Color of Water by James McBride
    Any Known Blood by Lawrence Hill
    and When Will There be Good News? by Kate Atkinson (just about finished this).

  2. Clarification:
    that's my "mom" he's talking about! Some of you met her when she came along as my guest to a book club meeting at Sherrie's house. :-)


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