Not to be confused with the (quite frankly awesome) song of the same name by The Cardigans, The Favourite Game is singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen's first novel, and boy, does it set a high standard. In fact, I'm inclined to think of it as Cohen's best, and it's certainly my personal favourite.
It's also a difficult book to classify - Cohen's fluid prose often resembles poetry in its style and form, and there are elements of the manuscript that are autobiographical. It has a story behind it, too - unknown and broke in 1959, Cohen was awarded a $2,000 grant which he lived on while working on the novel. Just think - if it wasn't for that grant and for Cohen's innovative writing, we'd be living in a world without Hallelujah, Tower of Song and a whole host of other Cohen classics.
For me, The Favourite Game stands out from Cohen's other works because of the strong characterisation and the way in which Lawrence Breavman so accurately reflects the young author's own struggle for love, success and excitement. In many ways, it's also a love story to rival Romeo & Juliet - in the blurb's own words, "although [Breavman] has loved the bodies of many women, it is only in the arms of Shell that he discovers the potent totality of love and its demands."
So if you're looking in to Cohen's literary output, whether you're a fan of his music or not, there's no better place to start than The Favourite Game - it might be his first novel, but it's also his best.
Having recently read Sylvie Simmons' excellent biography of Leonard Cohen and having long admired the lyricism of his songs, I thought I'd try one of his early novels. I wasn't disappointed. The prose is elegant and lyrical without in any way intruding on or distracting from the story telling. The themes seem to be heavily autobiographical but with "A Catcher in the Rye" mood overlaying the whole piece.
'The Favourite Game' is one of Cohen's two novels (the other being Beautiful Losers) and describes a growing up / coming of age in Montreal in the 1950s / 1960s. The book revolves around two friends - Breavman (the protagonist) and Krantz - and their transition from childhood via adolescence to adulthood.
The book is first and foremost worthwhile reading because of Cohen's fantastic prose, which in many ways reminds one of his lyrics and which is truly extraordinary, when compared to more conventional fare. This makes the book quite an experience, at the same time it also means it is best enjoyed slowly, a handful of pages at a time, rather than in one cover to cover frenzy. Luckily the structure, with chapters of varying length (but all sufficiently short), supports such an approach.
The story of growing up is one most adults will be able to reconnect with at some level, even if our own individual experiences may well differ. It is also an excellent capturing of a now long gone age, both more boisterous and perhaps innocent.
The book has been compared to The Catcher in the Rye, which may be true at some level; even so I personally much prefer Cohen's interpretation of a coming of age to Salinger's and would recommend the book even to those, who were less than enthusiastic about The Catcher in the Rye.
I can imagine the book working equally well with late teen as well as adult readers, even if they will probably distill different messages out of the book. In any case, if Leonard Cohen appeals as a musician, it is hard to go wrong with his early fiction - i.e. this book - either.
to start with you must understand I am a Leonard Cohen nut - I am predisposed to love his style. Having said that I do not believe I have read another book where the author always seems to choose the precise descriptive word that resonates perfectly with me. The book is always described as 'shamelessly autobiographical'; an account of his own childhood, adolescence and young adulthood in the guise of Lawrence Breavman, and fascinating to the female reader as it gives an insight into the male mind. It also reminds me of my own youth because Cohen is only a few years older than me and he brings to life the texture of life in the years after the war. The book also has what I think is the funniest line in any writing about sex - the hero is about to engage in his first encounter and the girl changes her mind and starts to put her clothes back on - and the hero says he feels like an archaeologist watching the sand blow back ...
I read this many years ago and was prmpted to re-read after reading the latest biography by Sylvie Simmons. "Favourite Game" gives a real insight into Cohen's early life. To be honest he can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned - I've been a fan since 1967!