The Big Sleep
Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel The Big Sleep will hit you like a ton of bricks. It is a masterful whodunit thriller which doesn’t mince words, a.k.a. it’s crude and forceful, like meat and potatoes. It has quite a unique literary style which … probably had a big impact on the detective/mystery and pulp fiction genre and subsequent Film noir adaptations. I recommend it highly; you won’t be bored … at least I wasn’t.
—Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains —said Marlowe with a gun being pointed at him.
But first, let me digress a little. You see I haven’t written in a while; although, I have a list of topics for future posts. But my mind wasn’t on it and I don’t want to post fluff, just for the heck of it. Also, I had started reading The Big Sleep a while back but my Kindle reader croaked. However, the wonderful folks at Amazon.com were kind enough to send me a new one, at no cost, since it was still under warranty. Thanks Amazon!
Additionally, it’s not that I haven’t been writing much these days. Au contraire, mon ami, I have been busy editing and generally working on my own novel. Hopefully, I’ll post interesting stuff again.
So, I got hold of the 1946 film adaptation with the great actor Humphrey Bogart and beautiful and wonderful actress Lauren Bacall. But I haven’t watched it because I wanted to finish the novel first; although, I have read rave reviews about this movie. Not to worry, since I will be commenting on the movie as soon as I watch it.
Mr. Chandler was born in Chicago but spent most of his childhood and youth in England, where he received a good classical education. Tried a stint as a newspaper journalist but was unsuccessful. He moved to California and it was tough for a while, doing all kinds of jobs. He fought in WWI. Chandler didn’t actually start his writing career until he was forty five, after he was fired as an oil business executive VP; you know the story … women, alcohol, cigarettes, et al. I only mention this brief bio because this was a man that had a lot real-life world experience and it shows in his writing; especially a sense of unromantic business pragmatism which is well suited for the genre.
The novel takes place in Los Angeles, circa mid 30s. I imagine a growing city but one who still had some elements of small town for which you could put your hands around it. Philip Marlowe is a private investigator, smart, I dare say cunning and not doing well as far as money is concerned; you could say he’s just surviving. He’s hired by the Sternwood’s, a rich family, on a blackmail case. The plot is complicated and in there lies its charm. Just when you think you have everything figured out halfway through the book, you realize that there is more, a lot more.
There are seedy characters, murders, extortion, gambling, smut rackets, guns, the law … you name it; it’s all in there for your enjoyment. The Sternwood’s, the wealthy family are not at all together, either. The two daughters, the younger one in her early twenties and the older one whose husband, a former bootlegger, had recently disappeared without so much as leaving a trace, are most definitely trouble. And Marlowe is not the “would be super hero” who goes unscathed either.
Ok, I know it’s not much but that is as far as the plot that I’ll give you; don’t want to ruin it for you. But let’s talk about the style.
At first it took me a while to get the gist of it. The novel is full of slang, clichés, et al. But don’t get me wrong, the heavy usage of it doesn’t detract from it; instead this is what makes the novel’s style unique. The characters are witty, quick and outright sharp so they can come back with those snappy responses. Marlowe is particularly good at it. I found myself consulting the dictionary quite often. Of course, on the Kindle this is a snap; just move your cursor over the word and bingo the definition pops out immediately. After a while, Marlowe’s first person narrative grows on you and it seems quite natural. Some of the witticisms are quite funny and memorable.
“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”