Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Big Sleep: Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler is a very well-known and highly regarded author of hard-boiled mysteries featuring Philip Marlowe. He was also major influence on future writers in that sub-genre.

In The Big Sleep (1939), Philip Marlowe, a private detective in 1930's Los Angeles, is working on a job for General Sternwood, a very old, very sick rich man with two wayward daughters. The case involves blackmail but quickly evolves into a much more complicated situation. The story shows us the seamy side of Los Angeles, with the story involving gambling, pornography, and mobsters.

Chandler's writing in this book is beautiful. This was Chandler's first novel and many readers say it is not his best book. I enjoyed every minute of it. I have to be honest and say that viewing the movie may have influenced my enjoyment. I have watched the movie many times, but it had been at least a decade since I saw it last. I knew the basic story very well though.

The descriptions of Marlowe, his interactions with others, and the snappy dialog was great. I liked the plot too, but that could have been because I am so familiar with the movie. I look forward to reading more books by this author to see if my enjoyment continues (or even increases).

The book has a wonderful opening paragraph:
It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark little clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.
A Chandler quote:
The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time.
Which may be why the style seems to be utmost in this book. And kept me reading eagerly.

My husband has a wonderful old edition of this novel.  It is a motion picture edition, published June 1946, with photos from the movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.



This book counts for the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge for the category Size Matters.

I watched the Bogart and Bacall movie based on this book last night and will be writing a post on it soon.

24 comments:

  1. I think Chandler went from strength to strength in his novels, with the best of them being the next to last, The Long Goodbye. The last of them, Playback, is generally thought to be the weakest; that might be because it started as a screenplay, and then was adapted to a novel. Chandler is often very good with his openings, as in the famous opening to "Red Wind." I think my all-time favorite opening to a novel, any novel, was the opening to The Little Sister. Everything you need to know about Marlowe and the book is packed into the first paragraph.

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    1. Thanks, that is useful. I look forward to reading all of the books, especially The Long Goodbye.

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  2. Tracy, I have never read Chandler or Hammett yet and I know what I've been missing. It's interesting that a lot of these hardboiled novels were made into successful films.

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    1. It is interesting, Prashant, how many of Chandler's novels (and Hammett') have been adapted and done well. I hope to read and watch all the books that have been adapted into movies in the next year or so.

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  3. Ha and I wasn't impressed with Raymond Chandler's style at all. Much prefer Dashiell Hammett. I publicly admit Chandler is not to my liking and will quit trying for now. Maybe I'll appreciate him later in life? Who knows. I'll be curious to know what you think of Hammett. I honestly thought I'd enjoy both writers but ended up liking only one.

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    1. Keishon, our differences are what makes life interesting, or something like that. I am going to read more Hammett this year but not sure if I will find it too gritty for me. Maltese Falcon for sure; maybe some of the Continental Op, which you said you preferred?

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    2. Yes, differences do make life more interesting. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm just envious that I don't. *sob* Continental Op stories are my favorites by Hammett. They move fast and are gritty and action packed. I love his one liners. The Maltese Falcon was good but not great to me. My favorite is Red Harvest which features the nameless Continental Op. A lot of backstabbing and a large body count in that one.

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    3. The only Hammett I have right now is Maltese Falcon and a collection of Continental Op stories. Will have to go looking for more.

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  4. Time to hunt through the books and see if I can find this. Hammett also needs a read sometime soon.

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    1. Col, I am also eager to try Ross Macdonald. I am sure I have read some of his books but will start from the beginning and pretend I have not. Actually, maybe not start from the beginning as I have had some recommendations of specific books to start with.

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  5. Tracy - An excellent review, for which thanks. I couldn't agree more about Chandler's writing style. It does draw the reader in doesn't it? And I've always liked the Philip Marlowe character.

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    1. Margot, having read this one, I am eager to read more but I am sure I will wait until next year to do that.

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  6. I haven't read anything by Chandler (or Hammett) but I love the film, you've convinced me to get the book, I think it will be one which doesn't lie around unread in my TBR pile for long. Thanks.

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    1. Katrina, this book is definitely worth trying. Some don't like the plotting, but it is no worse than the convoluted plot of the book. I was actually surprised at how much I liked it.

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  7. Terrific TracyK, so glad you enjoyed this great book. And isn't the last paragraph just one of the best endings ever? And love your edition of the book - envious in fact!

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    1. yes, Sergio, that last paragraph is great too. And so different from the movie. My husband has lots of lovely books. It is the reason I married him.

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  8. TracyK: What a photo of Bacall! Sultry was invented to describe such a picture. I think it works beterr in black and white than it would in colour.

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    1. Bill, I agree. Gorgeous photo, and better in black and white. The character is much more appealing in the movie than in the book.

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  9. I enjoyed the movie, especially because I love the Bogart and Bacall pairing, but I still couldn't figure out who happened, and I've heard the same thing from people who read the book.

    I will still read it sometime, when the TBR piles and lists shrink (ha! as if that ever happens).

    Also, I think your reason for marrying your spouse is one of the best reasons ever!

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    1. Kathy, both the book and the movie had confusing plots, and I guess that is not Chandler's strength. But I did really enjoy reading the book, more than I expected.

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  10. That's a beautiful edition you have of the book. I find the combination of high style and low deeds, and the contrast, very compelling in Chandler's books. He wrote in such an inimitable style... Going to look at your film review now.

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    1. Moira, it is a nice edition. You are right about the contrast in this book ... I haven't read the rest. Elegant writing and corrupt, ugly behavior.

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  11. I had heard of The Big Sleep, probably because it's a movie, but I've never read it. Your edition looks beautiful and I love that the photographs give you a feel for the era when it was written :)

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    1. Katie, I certainly enjoyed getting to read it after all these years and comparing the movie.

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