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Monday, 6 February 2017

Review, "The Big Sleep" By Raymond Chandler.

Bogart And Bacall
If you're a regular visitor here, you'll know that, while I love to read, it takes me a long time to finish a book. What with writing full-time, family life, my garden, and looking after our dog, hens and  bees, I rarely time to sit and concentrate. As I'm a slow reader anyway, I've generally lost the thread and have to go back a page or two from when I last put the book down. Half the time I seem to be going backwards, which can be very dispiriting.

I received a wonderful haul of twelve books as Christmas presents last December 25th, so I've decided to post one review per month. That will encourage me to keep reading!

You can find my review of the first book I read this year, Cryptozoologicon Vol I, here.  I wanted to alternate non-fiction and fiction, so my second review is of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

The Big Sleep is the first outing for Chandler's Private Detective Philip Marlowe, first published in 1939. My copy is the 2011 Penguin reprint, with a forward by Ian Rankin.  The Big Sleep is a book very much of its time, which was an age long before political correctness. Anti-hero Marlowe drinks, smokes and wisecracks his way through a plot that has more twists and turns than a maze. 

Marlowe is employed by wealthy General Sternwood to foil a blackmail attempt on his younger daughter, Carmen. In other (apparently unrelated) news, Rusty, the husband of Sternwood's older daughter Vivian, has disappeared. There's a long and convoluted road littered with corruption in high places, heavy drinking, gambling, violence, smoking, swearing, and several bits that would never get past the politically-correct lobby today, but if you can get past the name-calling, this is a great read. Marlowe eventually draws almost all the threads of the convoluted plot together, and ties them up neatly. One loose end left dangling is Who Killed The Chauffeur. If you can't work it out, you're in good company. Howard Hawks, director of the 1946 film The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, quizzed the author about it. Chandler confessed that even he had no idea! 

Despite a long list of characters, every one of them has a vital part to play and there isn't a wasted word in the whole book. In common with all great stories, The Big Sleep transports you into a different world, peopled by well-drawn characters and set in a location far beyond anyone's usual existence. Not many of us are likely to get mixed up in murder, illicit sex and a pornography racket (thank goodness) but we can all enjoy watching knight-in-sightly-tarnished-armour Marlowe bring his own sense of honour to bear on this serpentine plot. 

I could fill pages with great quotes from this book,  but here's one of the best:

“Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.” 

The description of Marlowe opening up his office first thing in the morning is a classic, and the idea of driving in Californian orange groves (flat tyres, torrential rain and all) really drew me into the story. Wow. That's what I enjoy in fiction— local colour!