by Geoffrey Wren


I have tried not to spoil the enjoyment of anyone planning to read this book, but as I fail in most of what I do it might be best for such people to not read below this line.

To anyone considering reading Beautiful Losers, it should be noted that the language and perversity of some passages must undoubtedly be considered as highly offensive. To those who are, for one reason or another, unable to become familiar with Leonard Cohen's complex second novel, I have made a simple "walkthrough" - and I believe this is the first time this has been done. The novel is divided into three books.

- Snow

Book One: The History of Them All

This is the first of the three books comprising the work. A rich collection of more than fifty vignettes in which the narrator remembers primarily his wife Edith and his friend, F. - both deceased. The recollections, written from a Montréal treehouse, parallel and interchange with comparisons to the seventeenth century Mohawk Indian, Catherine Tekakwitha.


Opening declaration of love to Catherine Tekakwitha and remembering the death of F.


A luckless tribe called "The A-----s", who's very name became a synonym for loser.


Catherine's influence and connection to the Church.


First insight into F.'s sexual attitude.


Edith commits suicide at the bottom of an elevator shaft, and F. confesses to having had a relationship with her.


A night with F. as he paints a plaster model of the Akropolis with red nail varnish.


Edith stands naked in the middle of the room after coating herself with red grease.


The eating of priests, etc., and Catherine's capture by the Iroquois.


Homosexual acts with F., who tried to claim he was born female.


Pure prose, concerning things which were wanted.


The sexual atmosphere Catherine must have witnessed in the Iroquois long house.


Describing how four-year-old Catherine's face became pock-marked when a plague ravaged her Mohawk tribe; and remembering how F. tauntingly told of how he and Edith invented the erotic telephone dance at the System Theatre - plus a list of the different things found in Edith's navel.


Suffering with constipation.


F. buys a tailoring factory.


Intermingled thoughts concerning Catherine's daily life and of F. and Edith, culminating in accusations against the modern Catholic Church.


The conniving aunts plan a trap for virginal Catherine.


Prose, addressed to, and praising, God. Each word given a capital letter.


The gift of an English-Greek phrase book from F.


Four men chase thirteen-year-old Edith into the woods.


When eating with a man who is in mourning.


The box of fireworks inherited from F.


Lighting one of the fireworks.


More prose addressed to God with capital lettered words.


Hand burned after lighting another firework.


The notorious "Pigskin crackling" piece, in which explodes a tirade of stuttering longing. Love and loneliness erupt into seemingly unconnected words, demonstrating acute difficulty in stating a taboo desire. Absolutely one of the novel's many highlights.


Learning about "Tekakwitha's Spring".


The twenty-seventh day; a short and cheerless journal entry.


A shorter and even more cheerless journal entry.


F. sends away for Charles Axis' (Charles Atlas) muscle building course after seeing an advertisement in a comic.


Listening to the radio playing the Gavin Gate (Marvin Gaye) song 'It Hurt Me Too'.


Who was the King of France? A brief meditation.


French troops and missionaries invade Mohawk territory.


Prose concerning religious medals.


A Jesuit priest shows the Mohawks a painting depicting the horrors of purgatory awaiting those who do not conform to Christianity.


Mohawks are slowly coerced into accepting the Church's doctrine.


An examination of the world in 1675, and questions concerning death.


A priest calling at Catherine's cabin is possessed by "The Shadow", resulting in foot fetishism and Catherine's request to be baptized.


Prose in the form of a questioning prayer, again with capital lettered words.


A very hazardous drive to Ottawa with F.


Deliberating upon what a saint is.


Catherine is baptized and Edith is missed.


Catherine accidentally knocks over a glass of wine.


Origins of the word "apocalyptic", followed by various homages, and ending with F.'s cure for warts.


Naked under a sunlamp with clothed Edith and F., who use a syringe on themselves. Then the discovery in Edith's drawer of three advertisement coupons; two for leg development and one for Lourdes water.


Prose, inspired by the absence of a radio and becoming out of touch with the Top Ten hit parade. Then Catherine is sitting with her sick uncle, who tells her about Oscotarach, the head-piercer.


[There is no 46]


The year is 1964. A physical attack by F., demanding to know why he alone sent for the Charles Axis' muscle building course all those years ago. Afterwards, what happened when mixing with tightly-packed French nationalists at a demonstration against Queen Elizabeth's planned visit to Montréal.


A prose essay of mixed thoughts and questions, encompassing numerology, astrology, torture, accounts of how the bodies of saints do not decompose, and F.'s humorous story of the girl with long pubic hair.


Catherine's sick uncle is healed by participating in a mass orgy after claiming that he had dreamed such an experience would cure him.


F. is accused and resented. He departs after telling of a suicidal plan to blow up Montréal's statue of Queen Victoria in protest against Queen Elizabeth's forthcoming state visit.


Rich abstract prose, in the form of an attempted telepathic call to Catherine.


Beseeching Catherine with a phrase-book at the wash house, tobacconists, barber's shop, post-office, telegraphic-office and bookseller's. Then, finally, with Greek translations, at the drug-store.

Catherine Tekakwitha. Musée Historique Canadien Ltée,
Montréal, Québec. (Wax Museum). Photo © Stephen Scobie.

Book Two: A Long Letter from F.

The middle section of the three books begins with a long confessional letter from the lecherous F. which his lawyers had been instructed to deliver five years after his death. It was written from an occupational therapy room at a hospital for the criminally insane, purportedly while simultaneously pleasuring a nurse called Mary Voolnd. The text is masterfully composed, in parts highly emotional, almost always humorous, and includes the famous "God is alive, magic is afoot" prose. F. also explains about the fireworks and collection of soaps he had bequeathed. Here, too, can be found the much discussed Danish vibrator (DV) incident - F.'s science fictional account of what happened when he and Edith spent a secret weekend at an Argentian hotel, his role being her beautician. The methods and books he used to excite Edith are listed, and graphic details of how two Jesuit priests were tortured to death is also recorded as heightening her arousal. The letter moves on to hint at F. being Oscotarach the head-piercer, and states his longing for the independence of Québec. He finishes by enclosing documentation of the last four years of Catherine Tekakwitha's life and the ensuing miracles. This is preceded by two short addresses: "F.'s Invocation to History in the Old Style" and "F.'s Invocation to History in the Middle Style" - the latter having seven explanatory footnotes. F.'s documentation is as follows:


It is 1677. After hearing of a Christian mission at the village of Sault, Catherine leaves home.


Catherine's arrival at Sault.


It is made known that Catherine is expected to marry.


Severe practices of penitence are described, of which Catherine willingly participates.


Catherine does not understand why she has a need to suffer.


Catherine walks alone in the beautiful nature, the whole time asking the same question.


A footnote from a book published in 1867 concerning research into the capacity of skulls is reproduced.


How Catherine's best friend at Sault, Marie-Thérèse, came to be there.


The two best friends examine each other's bodies.


Catherine stops eating on Wednesdays, and complains that Marie-Thérèse does not whip her hard enough.


Converted Indians refusing to fight the French are burnt at the stake.


Catherine secretly extends her fasting. F. gives examples of other people who did not eat, and says that Edith was bulimic.


Catherine's health deteriorates, and she is encouraged not to perform her penitence so rigorously. She formally offers her body to Jesus and his mother.


It is discovered that Catherine is sleeping with thorns.


F. pauses in his documentation to ponder upon the information he supplies and to ask questions.


Catherine is dying and receives absolution. The entire village file past her with their own private prayers.


Catherine is dead. The pock-marks on her face disappear.


F. again takes a pause from facts and makes miscellaneous statements, before describing Catherine's funeral and the hysteria which followed.


[There is no 19]


The testimony of Captain du Luth, cured of gout after praying in Catherine's name.


Obscure hopes from F. hinting at reincarnation.


The first visions of Catherine resurrected.


Miracles attributed to belief in Catherine.


F.'s documentation ends by detailing the fate of the mission at Sault after Catherine's death. He then moves onto a personal level, discussing vegetarianism and the System Theatre cinema. The concluding paragraphs mention an oily package, a radio, and Mary Voolnd becoming seriously mauled by police dogs as a terrorist leader escapes from the hospital.

The System Theater. Photo © Stephen Scobie.

Book Three: Beautiful Losers

The ambiguous third and final section, from which the novel takes its name, has the essence of multi-interpretational cult literature.

It is spring-time in a forest south of modern Montréal. An old man with pedophilic tendencies is visted at his treehouse home by a seven-year-old boy acquaintance, who says that the police now know about him. The man hitch-hikes a lift into the city, the car being driven by a woman who does little to discourage his lecherous intentions. In Montréal he enters the System Theatre and has a paranormal experience. Afterwards he slips into an amusement arcade and becomes the cause of pandemonium, amidst which he confusingly disintegrates into a Ray Charles movie.

Next, in both French and English language, comes the Jesuits demand for the official beatification of Catherine Tekakwitha.

The end is a short address to the living and the dead.

Compiled by Geoffrey Wren (aka Snow), Norway 2001