Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

Mmm... big yellow cocktail.
The Long Goodbye [Philip Marlowe #6] (1953) by Raymond Chandler: It's difficult to assess a Raymond Chandler novel when you've read a lot of the novels influenced by Chandler's hard-boiled detective style, much less seen great movie adaptations and great movies influenced by Chandler's transformative work.

The voice of the Chandlerian narrator -- in this case and many others, Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe -- is that of a cynical, world-weary detective who will nonetheless try to do the right thing. As first-person narration, it's almost infinitely adaptable. 

The narration of the original theatrical release of Blade Runner echoes it. The bleak world of Chinatown subverts it. The triumph of The Big Sleep lies partially in almost perfectly adapting it to the big screen, with help from Chandler himself (and Leigh Brackett, who 30 years later would help write The Empire Strikes Back, the most world-weary Star Wars movie of them all.

Chandler famously railed against the artificiality of most mystery novels in his essay "The Simple Art of Murder." The Long Goodbye seems like the fictional expansion of that essay. Marlowe doesn't so much solve a couple of mysteries as get caught in their undertow before being vomited upon the shore. 

It's a triumph of style and characterization. As a plot, The Long Goodbye makes Murder on the Orient Express look like a true-life case study -- and as the climax recedes once and once again, things get stranger and more complex.

Chandler's depiction of grimy, gaudy Los Angeles rings about as true today as it did then -- or at least as truthy. Philip Marlowe exists not as a possible character, but as the more poetic extrapolation of Dashiell Hammett's earlier Sam Spade. Humphrey Bogart played them both, which somehow makes all the sense in the world. Highly recommended.

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