The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

All that glitters…

😐 😐

When Philip Marlowe helps out a drunken Terry Lennox one night, it starts a kind of casual friendship between the two men. So when Lennox’s wife is beaten to death, it’s to Marlowe that he turns for help, not to investigate the crime, but to assist him to flee the country. Hearing later that Lennox has confessed to the murder, Marlowe doesn’t believe it – he can believe that Lennox might have killed his serially unfaithful wife, but not that he would have done it so brutally. Meantime, he has been approached by the publisher of Roger Wade, a successful writer now struggling with bouts of drunkenness which are making it impossible for him to finish his latest book. The publisher wants Marlowe to keep Wade sober, if he can, and to try to find out what is causing Wade to behave this way. Marlowe refuses, but soon gets sucked into Wade’s troubles anyway, partly because of Wade’s beautiful, golden wife.

This one didn’t do it for me at all, I’m afraid. Admittedly, it has several of the elements I most dislike about American noir fiction – the constant drunkenness, the casual violence, the ubiquitous Great God Gun at whose altar all America worships, apparently. The women exist purely as sexual beings, the men (despite the constant availability of women and drink – or maybe because of it) are all existentially miserable, corrupt and violent – even the good ones. Society as a whole is also corrupt, bleak and hollow. No one does a normal, honest job, or has a happy family life. Only old people have children, and that purely so they can despise them. Love only appears as lust, and even the fulfilment of that lust usually ends in tears, literally. Makes me wonder why anyone would choose to go on living and, indeed, one of the recurring themes of the book is suicide. Somehow this kind of depressing noir vision of life works quite well on screen for me, but not in books, maybe because I have too much time to get bored with it.

Book 68 of 90
CC Spin 24

As if specially to annoy me further, Chandler, obviously in autobiographical mood, chose for another of his themes to write about how hard it is for writers to write, a subject that writers too often find far more fascinating than I do. My feeling is that if writers hate writing, the solution is simple – don’t do it. The world will not run short of books. And fewer books about the plight of poor struggling writers would be a major bonus for poor struggling readers.

The writing itself is fine, though without the slick snappiness I generally expect from American noir of this era. I did not however find it as “literary” as many other reviews suggest. Of course, we all define “literary” differently, but for me it means it has something to say about society or “the human condition”. This speaks only about the drunk, the corrupt and the violent. Chandler suggests that his characters had often been damaged by their experiences in the recent WW2, but I didn’t find he handled this aspect convincingly – except in the case of one character, it seemed more like an excuse than a cause. Some of the descriptive stuff paints wonderfully evocative pictures, though…

The bar was filling up. A couple of streamlined demi-virgins went by caroling and waving. They knew the two hotshots in the booth farther on. The air began to be spattered with darlings and crimson fingernails.

Raymond Chandler

The biggest problem, though, is that the book is bloated to a degree where the actual story gets almost completely overwhelmed by the rather pointless padding, repetitive dialogue and occasional mini-essays on what Chandler feels is wrong with the world. I had to make a huge effort to keep going, in the hope, not fulfilled, that at some point the reason for the book’s reputation would become clear. I can only assume that it’s a mismatch between book and reader, since undoubtedly it is almost universally loved by those who read it. Personally, I vastly preferred The Big Sleep, the only other Chandler I’ve read. Although it’s a long time since I read it, I seem to remember it was tighter, slicker and more entertaining, with Marlowe operating as a proper private eye. In this one, the amount of actual detection Marlowe does is pretty much zero – he just gets caught up in events and wanders somewhat aimlessly around annoying people till they punch him. Sadly, I could see their point.

“I’ve got five hundred pages of typescript here, well over a hundred thousand words. My books run long. The public likes long books. The damn fool public thinks if there’s a lot of pages there must be a lot of gold.”

Not all of us, Mr Chandler, not all of us.

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45 thoughts on “The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

  1. I don’t think this would be for me either, I’m not in the mood to spend time in such a joyless, cinical fictional environment, I’ve got real life for that if I so desire. And what is it with so many stories about struggling writers? They don’t exactly sell it to readers as a proffession.

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    • I really must stop reading noir – I’ve done my best to learn to love it, but I just don’t. Call me a silly optimist, but I don’t think life is really that bleak! Not in our privileged countries anyway! Haha, I do get fed up with writers constantly moaning about their jobs. You don’t hear actors doing it, do you? I may one day write a book about poor struggling office clerks and the trauma of developing spreadsheets… 😉

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  2. I’ve never liked ‘gun-happy’ books, either, FictionFan (or, to be frank, real-life gun-worshipping). And I agree that plenty of Chandler’s female characters are objectified at best. That’s another thing I’ve held against him, if I can put it that way. Yeah, I can see how this one wouldn’t have appealed you. Oh, and about the life of a writer? Yeah, writing is hard. Yeah, making a real success of it is even harder. Trust me. I think the topic can be done to death, though…

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    • I know I’m still struggling to enjoy books as easily as I usually do, so I was disappointed not to love this one, but it was a real struggle to get through. I guess I just have to stop trying to love American noir – I’m not even keen on really noir Tartan Noir!

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  3. Well, well, well. The Long Goodbye is one of my favorites, and it’s never struck me as heavy on the noir. James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice–that’s noir, and a whole lot shorter! I’ve had The Long Goodbye waiting in line for what has to be a third or fourth read, I’ve lost count over the years, and I’m delighted to have your take, FF, as I dig in. Thanks for it.

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    • Haha, I hated The Postman Always Rings Twice, although I could appreciate how well it was done! It’s one of those very few books I wish I hadn’t read. I guess I have to just give up on trying to like noir – it very rarely works for me, especially American noir which tends to be darker than European noir, I think. I agree this one isn’t as noir as I was expecting but the general level of misery and existential hopelessness made it pretty noir-ish, I thought. But I’m definitely an outlier on this one, and am happy to accept that the fault is with the reader rather than the book on this occasion… 😉

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  4. I never read this and have no desire to do so, though I like some books of this genre. Your review was entertaining though.
    By the way, not all of us in America worship at the altar of the “Great God Gun.” 😉

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    • Haha, I know and I’m sorry to have generalised! But over here where guns are banned and everybody’s quite happy about that, America seems pretty gun-obsessed! And American noir especially so. But don’t let me put you off this one – I’m definitely in a tiny minority in not loving it. Just not my kind of thing, sadly.

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    • Hahaha, noooooooo!!! Don’t let me put you off – most people think this is brilliant, and I did enjoy The Big Sleep! I’m afraid I just have to accept that I’m never going to be a real noir fan, though…

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    • Ha, to be fair, it was his character who said that, but I couldn’t help feeling the character was largely autobiographical so, unfairly maybe, it seemed to me like he was probably expressing his own opinion. Damn fool authors ought to be more careful about insulting damn fool readers… 😉

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  5. Ughhhhh that’s the worst, writers complaining about writing. You are so right, we aren’t running out of books anytime soon. Too depressing right now, I couldn’t make it through something so sad at this point in the year LOL

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  6. I’ve only read The Big Sleep too and although I mostly enjoyed it I’ve felt no urge to read more Chandler. It sounds like this has more of the things I didn’t like in The Big Sleep, particularly the way he writes/focuses on women.

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    • I really need to give up trying to like noir – it hardly ever works for me. Somehow femmes fatales work on screen but not in books – maybe the actresses manage to give them a bit more depth or something…

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      • I used to read my grandma’s old noir mystery novels when I stayed with her and thought they were fun and campy. I suspect I’d dislike them more now as an adult. My feeling is that in books it’s very obvious when a character has been created by a man whereas on film it feels like at least one woman (the actress) is involved.

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        • Yes, our attitude to how women are portrayed in books has changed dramatically since the great noir writers were around. I think that might be why modern noir isn’t usually as dark – the authors know they’d turn off half their audience!

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            • There’s always been loads of female mystery novelists in Britain but mostly writing Agatha Christie type mysteries till the last couple of decades. Noir always seems to have been primarily men though, and I suspect most of the readership is male too, which is probably why the women are sex objects!

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            • Noir definitely strikes me as male-dominated. It would be interesting to read a well-written version with a female detective though. Or even with a more balanced portrayal of women!

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            • I actually have one on the TBR and must read it – Die a Little by Megan Abbott, which I’m told has all the noir style. I’ve enjoyed other books by her, but I’d like to see how a woman approaches noir – not easy, I’d think, with the femme fatale being such a major part of the genre.

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