I thought, upon greeting the new year, that I would have plenty of time to catch up with my blog; I saw rivers of posts flow from my fingers, and swirl across the blogosphere. Instead, I played a lot of CoD, Battlefront, worked, and spent time with friends and family. Still a good way to spend one’s summer, but it meant that, now the semester is nigh, I was forced to admit how behind I had fallen behind my dreams for the good ol’ blog. So, I’ve finally returned!
I did spend ages trying to decide on what I should write; some part of me insisted I should write about an Australian poem – but, as I researched, I reread this and that, and felt too sad to think about any more poetry. Instead, I decided to write about a bit of classic fun: a Raymond Chandler novel of Philip Marlowe, the quintessential hard-bitten private eye.
Humphrey Bogart proving who’s boss as Marlowe.
This is the second novel of Marlowe, The Big Sleep being his first. I read The Big Sleep years ago, however, and so fell back on my summer reading, Farewell, My Lovely. As one may expect from a private eye novel arising out of the thirties, the book follows a murder, a mystery concerning the disappearance of a woman, and many such things.The trail leads through corrupt cops, conniving conmen, off-shore gambling ships, and more! The story is gripping, and definitely enjoyable enough to keep one hanging on, page after page. Be warned though, the story is cunningly simpler than it all appears…
The writing though is where the book shines. It’s no P. G. Wodehouse or Mervyn Peake, but it’s solid, and achieves exactly what Chandler wants it to achieve: a harsh, tough, cold world of cars, gangsters, thugs, and more. Even so, the writing can surprise one with sudden shots of brilliance, such as ‘spring rustled through the city like a brown paper bag.’ A perfect description of a dry, tiresome Spring, in the eyes of a private eye. Or, when a man is taken away in an ambulance, Chandler’s stripped back prose hits home:
“All depends on what they hit inside. But he has a chance.”
“He wouldn’t want it,” I said.
He didn’t. He died in the night.
So short, so to the point. It’s times like this where Chandler really shines, as he finds a surprising analogy, or hits one with sentences so short they come and go as a bullet (I fear Chandler may be infecting my own attempt at analogies…).
Marlowe is also a great character. He’s tough, but not so tough as to be unbelievable; smart, but not so smart; and human – through his poor decisions, his drinking, his sudden reactions. The others are caricatures, and Marlowe himself too – but Marlowe is a caricature that almost seems real, perhaps simply because he lives to the cliche so well.
So that’s Farewell, My Lovely. It is not the greatest work one may find, nor even the greatest crime novel around. However, it is one of the classic works of gumshoe detectives, of private eyes, and, if I may quote the introduction, ‘It is in Marlowe’s long shadow that every fictional detective must stand – and under the influence of Raymond Chandler’s addictive prose that every crime author must write.’