Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Big Sleep

The book club wanted to read a "hardboiled" detective novel, so we settled on The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler's first Philip Marlow novel, published in 1939. It was fun reading such a great example of the genre, even though the language seems a little corny or cliched today.

At first I thought I wasn't going to be able to make it through, Chandler's book is chock-full of adjectives and I prefer a tighter prose. Chandler never met an adjective he didn't like. Or a simile. Here's a two-fer: The purring voice as now as false as an usherette's eyelashes and as slippery as a watermelon seed.
It must have been exciting, we remarked at book club, to read this stuff for the first time, when the genre was new.

She blew a soft gray smoke ring and poked her finger through. It came to pieces in frail wisps. She spoke smoothly, indifferently. "In his early forties, I should judge. Medium height, fattish. Would weigh about a hundred and sixty pounds. Fat face, Charlie Chan moustache, thick soft neck. Soft all over. Well dressed, goes without a hat, affects a knowledge of antiques and hasn't any. Oh yes. His left eye is glass.

Now, that's hilarious. And marvelous, isn't it?

I've read a lot of Dashiell Hammett, who I like because his books are quite amusing and he lived in San Francisco just a few blocks from our apartment. I like how Nick and Norah always referred to their apartment building by it's name, and M and I tried to get people to say, "Let's go over to the Warrington for a drink" but it never really caught on. I suppose The Big Sleep should be read by Angelinos just like I read Hammett in SF. When it comes to noir, I'd say Chandler really comes in and kills it in a way that Hammett doesn't. Even though Chandler's book is fairly convoluted, with one exception it makes sense, and his dialogue!

"My God, you big dark handsome brute! I ought to throw a Buick at you."

I snicked a match on my thumbnail and for once it lit. I puffed smoke into the air and waited.

"I loath masterful men." she said. "I simply loathe them."

"Just what is it you're afraid of, Mrs. Regan?"


Lyman said...

What a coincidence, I recently picked up a noir book for the first time myself. There's a publisher called Hard Case Crime that has been re-printing a lot of pulp classics as well as newer stuff. Can't wait to dive in to it.

Special K said...

A coincidence indeed! I intend to mail The Big Sleep to you and C!