Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Big Sleep

The Big SleepThe Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Will someone please purge Peter Falk's voice from my head? I swear the man learned how to speak by having this book read to him as a child.

Again, shame on me for not having read yet another American classic. I've always been a fan of noir in movies or on television, but had not read much at all, until recently. So I set out to make up for my un-American pinko commie ways and read a red-blooded American mystery. Now I honestly can't tell whether Raymond Chandler loved or hated America.

I can tell you that he's a great writer. His prose in The Big Sleep is sparse, almost blunt. But Chandler occasionally turns a phrase that grabs the reader by the throat. In that way he's like Wodehouse, but a dark, serious Wodehouse with only a glimmer of a grim sense of humor.

I went the emotional rounds with Philip Marlowe, admiring him, then hating him, then admiring him again. He's clever, forthright, honest (except when he needs to be dishonest), witty, warm-hearted, then cold-blooded. He's a classic male chauvinist, bordering on a misogynist. Frankly, I really hated him when he interacted with women in such a condescending way. Yeah, I know, he's a product of his time, I get that. But it just got old. Outside of that glaring character flaw, I was fascinated with Marlowe. I think a good deal of my admiration of the detective had to do with watching Chandler's handling of his main character. It's almost as if the author let Marlowe run around and do what he liked, only to pull back on his leash when he was about to give away too much to the reader. I sometimes wondered if Chandler or Marlowe was "in control," which is a testament to the underlying liveliness of the text.

The plot itself was as convoluted as a klein bottle. I often found myself re-reading certain sections to keep the "who's who" straight in my head. The apparent insanity of most of the characters kept things confusing, but also immersed me in the slightly paranoid world in which Marlowe lived. And that's what this book is really about: immersion in an atmosphere. It's a trip. A dark trip, but a fun trip. Just be careful. You never know who's waiting in the dark. Oh, there's always someone there. You might even get to know one of them. And just when you think you know that person in the dark, you just might not. Watch out.

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