Book Summary of "The Favourite Game" by Leonard Cohen

by Ginger Yapp
Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen has penned 2 cult novels.

Singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen has penned 2 cult novels.

Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Iconic singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen made his first foray into novel writing with 1963's "The Favourite Game." The book debuted to rave reviews and comparisons to J.D. Salinger's beloved coming-of-age tale, "The Catcher in the Rye"; some critics -- like the "Globe & Mail"'s T.J. Rigelhof -- have declared it one of the best Canadian novels of the 20th century.

The Plot

Set in Montreal in the 1950s, "The Favourite Game" revolves around Lawrence Breavman, a college-age young man on the brink of a nervous breakdown. The novel follows Breavman's life over the course of several years, as he leaves home for college and later as he becomes a noteworthy literary talent. Eventually, Breavman escapes Montreal for New York City, where he meets a whimsical young woman named Shell, and is forever transformed by his love for her.

Major Characters

Breavman hails from the town's only Jewish family; his religious beliefs are a constant source of external and internal tension. Another thing that haunts him is the murky, mysterious death of his father. Cohen has admitted that the character is somewhat autobiographical. Tamara is the character's first love, with whom he spends nearly 10 years, on and off. Krantz is another esoteric young man with whom Breavman shares many rambling adventures in Montreal. Shell is the artistic, free-spirited young woman he meets in New York; the two come from different worlds and different religious backgrounds, but take to each other immediately.

The Writing Process

Cohen wrote the first draft of his novel while living in London and Greece in 1959. When Cohen first tried to sell the novel -- then titled "Beauty at Close Quarters" -- back in Canada in 1960, it was rejected by several publishers. Publishers were leery of the novel's sexual content and the main character's egotistical, neurotic nature. When Cohen received deals from American and British publishers, it was with the caveat that it be chopped in half. Thus, the final product is a much leaner, streamlined version of what Cohen originally penned. The additional material has never been printed.

Critical Reception

Though the novel didn't make much of a splash upon its original printing -- which sold about 1,000 copies -- it has garnered a cult following over the years, through subsequent editions. The novel is sometimes taught in college courses, and has inspired praise from a host of prominent literary critics. Cohen would follow up "The Favourite Game" with "Beautiful Losers"; "Beautiful Losers" would prove to be the more popular of the two.

Photo Credits

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