viernes, 27 de febrero de 2009

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard paperback, 1992)
by Raymond Chandler
USA, 1939

"It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

The main hallway of the Sternwood place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling with the knots on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn't seem to be really trying." --The Big Sleep, pp. 3-4

Chandler's 1939 debut novel, like Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon before it, is one of those old favorites that has seemingly only gotten better with age. While its tale of high society blackmail having to do with a smut bookstore, crooked cops, illegal gambling, and multiple murders must have been even more thematically jolting back in the day, the way it's told still feels remarkably contemporary today. Part of that has to do with the novel's plot-driven engine, which motors along with all the speed and efficiency of a short story on wheels, but part of it has to with Chandler's bracing way with words. The book is full of smart, funny writing--like the description of a 20-year old party girl's "sharp, predatory teeth" (5) or the putdown of Marcel Proust as "a connoisseur in degenerates" (56)--passed off with the same sort of casual, conversational insouciance evident in narrator Phillip Marlowe's description of his arrival at the Sternwood mansion above. Yet despite the laughs, there's a cynicism or a world-weariness here that becomes more pronounced as the novel progresses--which is understandable given the notion that 1930s L.A. couldn't have been any kind of a decent place at all for either a stained-glass knight or his detective fiction counterpart. Inspired. (

Chandler (above) continues to receive an interesting mix of praise and dismissal from those evaluating his work from the perspective of "serious" fiction. For a reading that tries to argue both sides of the argument at once, check out "The Case for Raymond Chandler" by clicking on the link.

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