Joe's Reviews > The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
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Jan 24, 11

bookshelves: american-classics, detective-fiction, noir

I absolutely love Chandler's prose. This is the first book by him I've read and I found it as hard boiled as I expected it to be.

The protagonist has a classic voice right from the get go. Philp Marlowe is determined, able to withstand goons and dames alike, and has a moral streak as he careens between the underworld, a decaying mansion of lunatics, and his old police buddies who he maintains close relations. It is this delicate line that I found so fascinating, especially for pre-war era Los Angeles.

Chandler himself was a bit of an anxiety written nerd, so it's a wonderful treat to read this book. I feel as if Chandler must have really felt like this underneath the surface, even while he was having several nervous breakdowns and threatening to jump off the building whose newspaper office he worked for. Well, no one ever said that writers weren't a dramatic bunch.

The Big Sleep succeeds on so many literary levels because the prose literally crackles. It sends you on a voyeuristic tour of LA, and you never know what is around the corner. I liked the details that he includes that back then seemed mundane but now stand out as historically fascinating: the illegal sale of pornography, the legacy of bootlegging, the Mann Act, the oil fields that were still heavy in operation. Chandler himself was often mistaken for gay, even though he wasn't. I found this to be a likely culprit for his depiction of most homosexuals as simply weak and frail. This was a pretty commonly held view back in those days so I look at the work for it's merits and take a lens to those homophobic views in historical context, it's necessary for practically anything written about the subject before the 60s.

In terms of character, Marlowe moves the plot along with a sheer genius of diction and observation, two qualities I love in a narrating main character. If you want to start off with detective noir, this is one of the best places to start. The final reveal is perfectly executed, eerie, and sad all at the same time. The Big Sleep is a masterpiece of dark noir fiction.
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