viernes, 23 de septiembre de 2011

Farewell, My Lovely

Farewell, My Lovely (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992)
by Raymond Chandler
USA, 1940

For anybody keeping score at home, I'm in the early stages of an ever so leisurely reread of all of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels--looking for reading kicks, sure, but also looking to see how well these books hold up against my memories of them from days gone by.  So far Chandler and Marlowe are a solid two for two.  It's a measure of Farewell, My Lovely's success as an entertainment vehicle, though, that a far-fetched storytelling moment or two, an all too neat resolution of a love triangle and a murder, and some Hardy Boys-style credibility gaps didn't dim my enthusiasm for the novel as a whole.  It's a flawed but engaging work.  Although brash private detective Marlowe's first-person narration is as snappy as always ("Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as conspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food," he memorably describes one goon [4]), one of the things that I'd forgotten about in this novel is that he engages in an unexpected running gag involving some none too subtle Hemingway-bashing: "Who is this Hemingway person at all?" asks the dirty cop who's just had the Hemingway nickname bestowed on him by Marlowe and is quickly getting fed up with the mysterious insult.  "A guy that keeps saying the same thing over and over until you begin to believe it must be good," Marlowe retorts (164).  Elsewhere, Marlowe's reaction when presented with a photograph of a missing person is typical of the high testosterone yucks to be found throughout the narrative: "It was a blonde.  A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window" [93]).  What makes this second Marlowe novel so fascinating from a thematic rather than a mere writing standpoint, though, is that Chandler took a genre tale of multiple murders in L.A. and boldly turned it into a kind of oblique commentary on the problems of race in big city America.  What was Chandler's message?  Thankfully, it's not so simple that I could tell you for sure.  However, in a novel where casual racism from white cops, criminals, and even Marlowe himself is often directed at "nigger[s]" (87), "Jap gardeners" (121), "a smelly Indian" (142) and the like, it's both uncomfortable and somehow bracing to see Marlowe's sarcastic indictment of the kind of justice available to blacks vs. whites: "Well, all he did was kill a Negro.  I guess that's only a misdemeanor" (118).  (www.weeklylizard.com)

Raymond Chandler

Farewell, My Lovely was my third novel or novella read for R.I.P. VI.
The next title will likely be either James M. Cain's 1934 The Postman Always Rings Twice (also an old fave of mine back in my high school and/or college days) or a short story by Daphne du Maurier (since I appear to be the only guy on the planet who's never read anything by her).

13 comentarios:

  1. While I have never read Raymond Chandler, I do love The Postman Always Rings Twice and have read a few times. And do men read Du Maurier? :) I am getting ready to pick up the short works too.

    ResponderEliminar
  2. I love Chandler. The unexpected social commentary impresses me every time, but it's honestly the icing on the cake; I love him for all the traditional reasons of snappy dialogue & stylish stylization. And the mid-century LA setting is a bonus, as well. I need to revisit him at some point!

    ResponderEliminar
  3. He was my favourite writer a few years ago. "Was" because I haven't re-read him and don't know if I would still admire him so much.
    This was the first one I read and found it also quite hilarious. It wasn't my favourite one though.

    ResponderEliminar
  4. I love those lines you've quoted. Snappy, indeed! I've never read Chandler, but he's on the list, and after this review moving up it. Sometime...

    ResponderEliminar
  5. I just heard something on the radio about the discovery of an unpublished manuscript by James Cain. I intend to read things by him as well as by Chandler...eventually. I'll be curious to see what you think of du Maurier. I haven't been stunned by her yet...

    ResponderEliminar
  6. *Frances: Always a surprise in store from you--not sure I would have pegged you for a Postman Always Rings Twice fan for some reason (and a repeat fan of it at that). By the way, I'll answer your Du Maurier question if and only if I actually read something by her, ha ha!

    *Emily: I remember you giving Chandler props somewhere before, and I agree that his forays into social commentary are just the icing on the sassy hardboiled cake. I also dig the existentially grimy L.A. settings and how they've influenced everybody from other writers to various cinema bigwigs. That reminds me--about time for another viewing of the Chandleresque Chinatown!

    *Caroline: Wow, I never would have figured Chandler to be a favorite of yours--although I can certainly understand it given his tough guy's way with words. Was your favorite by him The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye or something totally unexpected? I'm going to guess on my second choice!

    *Amanda: Chandler is nothing if not quotable, and I believe that tarantula line of his has furnished the name of a blog that I've run across in my online wanderings. Having grown up in L.A., though, I may be a little biased toward a guy who practically singlehandedly put SoCal on the crime fiction map!

    *Sarah: I haven't read the dark, insistently to the point Cain in years, but the timing for a reread is just about perfect since I also saw that thing about a recently discovered Cain manuscript on Guy's His Futile Preoccupations... blog just the other day. Both Cain and Chandler tend to provide quick, really fast-paced reads--very unlike Du Maurier's pacing and subject matter, I'm guessing!

    ResponderEliminar
  7. I'm suprised you are suprised. Why is that surprising? It was the Long Goodbye. The wordless friendship between those two men... I could relate to that, the melancholy.
    There is something else I guess not many people have noticed about Chnadler. Pay attention when he mentions animals. I was totally annoyed when I read my first Arjouni who is called "a German Chandler". In one of the first books in the first scene his detective kills a fly. Marlowe would never kill a fly.
    The social criticism is excellent as well. I always wanted to write like Chandler. One of these days I'm getting there but with my own voice and no fly killing!

    ResponderEliminar
  8. This was my first, or one of my first, Chandler, and I think one of the best. You've posted some great highlights. I always think Marlowe (Chandler) is pretty sophisticated as far as social issues. Makes me like him all the more.

    ResponderEliminar
  9. Great review. It makes me want to pull my Library of American Edition off the shelf and read that one. I remember The Big Sleep has some rather dicey things in it too and its social cometary interesting to see. After so many films, and I love Dick Powell in Murder My Sweet, and old radio shows based on Chandler, it's great to get back to the original material and see how provocative it can be.

    ResponderEliminar
  10. I am thinking I need to branch out a bit and read these books...

    ResponderEliminar
  11. *Caroline: My bad--I guess I just figured Chandler to be a little too visceral for your sophisticated, European tastes! :D In all seriousness, though, it's interesting to be reminded of both the friendship and the melancholy you mention at the heart of The Long Goodbye, which I haven't read or seen in quite a while, and to have Marlowe's animal-loving ways brought to my attention. Hadn't noticed that before that I can remember, but there are a couple of scenes in Farewell, My Lovely where he in effect rescues a ladybug and comments on its plight. Not your typical tough guy--at least not in all respects.

    *Nicole: For sheer entertainment value, I have nothing bad to say about this novel or most of the other Chandlers I can remember. Agree that Marlowe's engagement with "social issues" are an added bonus as well. Interesting to see who all the Chandler fans among my readers are, by the way!

    *Paul: Those LOA editions are covet-worthy even for a guy like me who prefers paperbacks, but I also love the designs on many of the Vintage Crime/Black Lizard titles. Hard to go wrong with Chandler, I guess. I don't think I've seen that Dick Powell flick you mention, but I'll have to look into that and some other Chandler and Hammett style adaptations sometime soon.

    *Kailana: They are something akin to thrill rides for detective fiction fans, but they also give you a real sense of a specific time and place long gone by. Very quick-moving plots, too, if you go for that sort of thing.

    ResponderEliminar
  12. Richard, just thought you might be interested to know that BBC Radio 4 is currently dramatising a whole bunch of Chandler's works, and they are available to listen to as podcasts at the moment. I heard The Long Goodbye last Friday and enjoyed it very much. I have an omnibus edition of his novels to read and will get to it this winter.

    ResponderEliminar
  13. *Litlove: Thanks so much for that piece of news! Will have to see if those are still available before they disappear (my great fear given my procrastinatory tendencies). Cheers!

    ResponderEliminar