The whole thing is a bit like a poem. I can understand why Cohen gave up on novels after his second one and focused on poems and songs for the rest of his life. I don’t find The Favourite Game that successful as a novel. I find the storytelling is lacking. As I stared at it on my bedside table, I dreaded having to pick it up and longed to read one of the other books that I’ve been looking forward to, simply because I didn’t find that he hooked me with the story. But maybe I just didn’t get it.
I had the same reaction to To the Lighthouse and yet I still appreciated its beauty – just as I appreciate The Favorite Game’s.
It’s basically a bildungsroman about a young man who seems very much like I would imagine Leonard Cohen to be. It’s basically all about sex and the young man’s inability to commit to a relationship – but it’s not pornographic and all. Leonard Cohen manages to be entirely literary about it. Every sentence is poetic. At one point one of the young man’s lovers says to him, “It was so peaceful down there, so peaceful.” And the next line is: “Breavman (the young man) was tempted to punish her for the trite rhythm of her sentence.” That’s when I realized that every sentence was so carefully sounded out by Cohen before he wrote it, as in a poem. Example: “And they kept returning to the bed on Stanley Street and the strange light which seemed to repair the innocence of their bodies.”
There are excerpts of poems throughout the book, many of which appeared in some of Leonard Cohen’s volumes of poetry. And it’s all lovely. For instance, the poem that pre-faces the book:
As the mist leaves no scar
On the dark green hill,
So my body leaves no scar
On you, nor ever will.
The afterword of the book, written by a university professor, argues that Breavman longs for a relationship with a woman that will leave no emotional scar – but of course, there never is one. In fact, it’s the opposite, and it’s all the worse because Breavman doesn’t realize how horribly he’s treating the woman he cares about most in the novel – the horrible treatment basically being that he just leaves her when everything seems to be going fine – and not only that but he calls her from another city and says that he’s coming back to marry her, then, right after the phone call, realizes that he never will go back.
“One day what he did to her, to the child, would enter his understanding with such a smash of guilt that he would sit motionless for days, until others carried him and medical machines brought him back to speech.” That sentence comes right at the end of the novel.
But on the whole, I found it a bit adolescent – this young guy longs for the perfect sexual relationship, but cannot imagine staying with one woman. I found it hard to have sympathy for him.
I was amazed at his gall though. And am resolved to be a little bit inspired by how unflappable he is, going up to women in the street and introducing himself, or, at a party hosted by a married woman that he hasn’t seen since she was a child, saying in their first words of conversation, “I want to sleep with you.” Not that I approve of adultery, but I was impressed by his nerve.
It’s left me wanting to read more of Leonard Cohen’s poetry. The night that I finished the book, I grabbed my iPod and listened to the two Leonard Cohen songs that I have before falling asleep (that’s no way to say goodbye and famous blue raincoat). He’s such a talented songwriter.