Skip to content

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep is the first novel of Raymond Chandler’s I’ve read, and so far the best. The language is magnificent. The cadence, iconic similes, and raw energy all form a tense, brooding mood which plays over my mind in black and white. And, of course, the dialog snaps back and forth—everybody’s clever; witty repartee abounds, and everyone drinks enough liquor to ignite a dozen livers each. (He brings out my noirish tendencies.)

Together with Dashiell Hammett, Chandler created a truly American style, if there is such a thing, which exemplifies our national tough-guy facade. World-weary, bitterly sarcastic, self-assured; a lover but never giving love too much ground—that’s Chandler’s California, and the kind of America I’d like to see more (sort of).

Whether you like him or not, Philip Marlowe is a great character. He doesn’t have to be liked. Despite his constant drinking and gruff manner, he’s an upstanding person of unflinching moral fortitude. His is a lonely, dark road—and we get the sense he prefers it that way.

He figures crimes out slowly, as we readers do, detail by detail, and gets through by a combination of luck and toughness. Everything that happens, regardless of how unexpected, he takes in stride. And he’s smart. Nobody says all of what they’re thinking—other than the soft-minded—but Marlowe sees beneath the surface, to people’s true motivations, and worms out the truth.

What Chandler is saying about human nature and our society hits pretty hard. It takes someone like Marlowe to absorb all that baseness and not break. Despite the dark tone, there’s something bitterstweet and hopeful at the bottom of The Big Sleep. Justice comes, but at a terrible price, and we don’t know how much longer Marlowe, who’s our last man standing, can fight on.

One Trackback/Pingback

  1. A Well of Ignorance › Farewell, My Lovely on Sunday, October 5, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    […] My Lovely isn’t quite as playful as The Big Sleep, despite the addition of a lounge singer. At times, Farewell feels much more like a James Bond […]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared.