The Big Sleep & Other Novels

June 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

The Big Sleep & Other Novels

by Raymond Chandler
published by Penguin Books

It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat, and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.

The tragedy of life, Howard, is not that the beautiful die young, but that they grow old and mean. It will not happen to me.

This is but a selection of the delectable lines found throughout Chandler’s three novels. Some make you chuckle, others set you thinking. Chandler’s writing is curt, sparse, and lean; his novels ruminate on the sleazy underbelly of Los Angeles; the corruption; the debauchery; the filth. And this is all in stark contrast to the seemingly beautiful people who inhabit the city.

It seemed like a nice neighbourhood to have bad habits in.

Set in the midst of all this is Philip Marlowe. The hard-drinking, chess-playing, smooth-talking private detective. To describe him as man of honour would be a little over the top, yet there is an element of that cliché which he embodies. He only accepts as much payment as is necessary to get the job done. When a man he was acquainted with is accused of committing a hideous crime, he listens to his gut and refuses to believe the accusers. “I’m a romantic Bernie. I hear a voice crying in the night and I go to see what’s the matter. You don’t make a dime that way.”

This particular volume by Penguin contains the following novels: The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, and The Long Goodbye. Three fine selections from the Marlowe canon showcasing the evolution of Chandler’s writing. The Big Sleep, admittedly my least favourite of the three, is what introduced the world to Marlowe in 1939. The PI finds himself embroiled in the world of the Sternwoods: a world of blackmail, kidnapping, and pornography. The Big Sleep is a good story but it lacks depth.

Farewell My Lovely and The Long Goodbye have more intricate and longer storylines; so much so that I felt The Long Goodbye began to drag a little halfway through, and the story does not conclude in as a neat a fashion as I had expected. Farewell My Lovely would be my pick of the three. Chandler imbibes his narratives with a grit and a roughness that mimics reality closely. Both these novels also have Marlowe pondering much more on the sleaze and corruption around him; on his place amongst these grey characters.

The Big Sleep and Other Novels has been a fantastic introduction to Chandler and Marlowe.

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