Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Book: The Favourite Game

The late Paul Quarrington and I are in disagreement. He wrote the afterword for Leonard Cohen's debut novel, The Favourite Game. The game, he writes, is "marring something unbroken". I believe the game is the making of impressions.

Perhaps we both mean the same thing. You cannot make an impression without marring the surface. But while some might see that the game of the book's protagonist, Lawrence Breavman, as pursuing and marring perfection, I see it as a cultivation of impressions. Impression on body. Impression on spirit and soul.

The Favourite Game was published in 1963 and is viewed as a semi-autobiographical novel since it constructs the portrait of a young Jewish poet from Montreal. Yet while Breavman's vocation as a writer and poet is the underpinning of the book, the stories are about relationships - with women he refers to as 'mistesses' and with his childhood friend, Krantz.

Breavman, or perhaps Cohen as his biographer, is unable to stop being an observer of his own life and of these relationships. For a woman he "was a professional, he knew how to build a lover to court her." After wooing and winning her, and even living with her for a time of acknowledged happiness, Breavman must flee her since the lover "had a life of his own and often left Breavman behind." He knowingly chose loneliness, but he also chose the vantage point from which he could study the impressions which she had made on him, which he had made on her.

When I buy a book, I put my name, date and city of purchase on the inside. This book was bought in Saskatoon in November of 1996. At the time I was doing an undergraduate degree in English and Philosophy and took a course in Canadian Literature in which we read a Canadian novel each week. I read this book quickly, but in true student fashion, I underlined the passages which stood out for me. "A community is an alibi for the failure of individual love." "Poetry is a verdict, not an occupation."

Reading it now, so many years later, is like returning to a familiar city. Some places were vividly remembered, others lost in the folds of memory so as to be new discoveries. But in the years since I read this book, I have become an ardent Leonard Cohen fan - of his music, art, and poetry. In some of the phrases in this book, I heard an echo of a song he would later write. It was a joy to read this book - not just since it is poetic, intelligent and vividly descriptive, but because it is part of the artist I so deeply admire and respect.

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