J.'s Reviews > The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
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Nov 16, 08


What more can be said about Raymond Chandler's first novel, published in 1939? Dashiell Hammett may have preceded Chandler with Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, but Chandler's style, as well as protagonist Phillip Marlowe, stand on their own.

Both Hammett and Chandler can be credited with creating this genre, from which the work the likes of Mickey Spillane, Erle Stanley Gardner and Elmore Leonard spawned. While none can perhaps be considered literary art, they are nonetheless art within their genre. Chandler's first person narrative sparkles with Marlowe's dry wit:

I went back to my office and sat in my swivel chair and tried to catch up on my foot-dangling.

And:

Then she lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theater curtain. I was to get to know that trick. That was supposed to make me roll over on my back with all four paws in the air.

The story, too, is perhaps ahead of its time, dealing in part with L.A.'s infant pornography business, something at which, in the movie version starring Bogart and Bacall, didn't really even hint.

Chandler has been praised as a star of the first magnitude and knocked as a world class drunk, but William Faulkner, no stranger to drink himself, wrote the screenplay from a novel he scarce understood. Faulkner had to ask Chandler who killed the Sternwood chauffeur, to which Chandler replied, rather sarcastically, "I don't know." Truly, the movie version was more a vehicle for Bogart and Bacall than for Chandler's genius.

This noir may not appeal to everyone, but I got a kick out of reading a period piece, a fun read and one that holds a solid place in American noir literature.

Recommended.
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