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.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 252…

Episode 252

And the amazing downward trend continues! The TBR has fallen by another 3 this week to the magic total of 200! Of course, since I’m achieving this miracle by reading all the short books, this means that the remaining 200 are all monsters, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it…

Here are a few more that should fall off the cliff soon…

Winner of the Classics Club Spin #24

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

The winning number is 18 and that means noir! I’m delighted to finally get to this one – the Classics Club Gods have chosen well! The idea is that this should be read and reviewed by the end of September and that should be well within the realms of possibility…

The Blurb says: When Philip Marlowe befriends down-on-his-luck veteran Terry Lennox he gets more than he bargained for. With Lennox’s wife dead and Lennox himself on the lam, Marlowe becomes the target for the local cops and a crazy gangster, while getting mixed up with alcoholic writer Roger Wade and his wife Eileen. Nothing is what it seems as Marlowe unravels the Wades’ scheme to expose the truth behind Lennox’s facade.

The most autobiographical of his novels, The Long Goodbye was considered by Chandler to be his best work. One of the preeminent examples of hard-boiled detective fiction, The Long Goodbye has been adapted for radio, film and television, and received the 1955 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

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Crime Novella

Silent Kill by Jane Casey

Ooh, a Maeve Kerrigan novella! Thanks to Eva for giving me the heads up on this one. 😀 I’m adding it to my 20 Books of Summer list since a space suddenly appeared when I abandoned All We Shall Know at the 11% mark on the grounds that the world is quite miserable enough without books like this adding to it. Maeve will cheer me up!

The Blurb says: A teenage girl is killed on a London bus. The case should be simple. The bus was full of witnesses, and there are cameras everywhere.

A hunt for a killer…
But the more DC Georgia Shaw and her colleagues Maeve Kerrigan and Josh Derwent delve into the crime, the more elusive the answers become.

A case that spirals out of control…
It seems impossible that no one saw anything, but soon the leads run cold. Will they uncover what really happened, or will the killer get away with murder?

For fans of the Maeve Kerrigan series, this is a story with a difference. Told from Georgia’s point of view, we see Maeve and Josh from the outside…like you’ve never seen them before.

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Fiction

Up the Junction by Nell Dunn

Another one from my 20 Books list. I’ve seen the film of this but probably a decade or so after it came out, since it would have been far too adult for me at the time. The film was one of those that kinda defined London in the ’60s, at least for those of us who didn’t live there. I only discovered it started out as a book when Madame Bibi reviewed it

The Blurb says: The girls – Rube, Lily and Sylvie – work at McCrindle’s sweet factory during the week and on Saturday they go up the Junction in their clattering stilettos, think about new frocks on H.P., drink tea in the café, and talk about their boyfriends. In these uninhibited, spirited vignettes of young women’s lives in the shabby parts of South London in the sixties, money is scarce and enjoyment to be grabbed while it can.

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Scottish Classic

The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson

And the penultimate book of the 20! (Will I make it through them all in time? It’s possible. But then it’s also possible that I could bungee jump from the top of Big Ben…) I know nothing about either author or book except that it shows up from time to time on lists of Scottish classics…  

The Blurb says: Set in the backstreets of a Scottish city in the 1920s, The White Bird Passes is the unforgettable story of a young girl growing up in ‘the Lane’. Poor, crowded and dirty – but full of life and excitement – the Lane is the only home Janie MacVean has ever known. It is a place where, despite everything, Janie is happy. But when the Cruelty Man arrives, bringing with him the threat of the dreaded ‘home’ – the orphanage that is every child’s nightmare – Janie’s contented childhood seems to be at an end.

A gritty and moving portrayal of a young girl facing up to hardship and deprivation, written with warmth, humour and insight, Jessie Kesson’s classic autobiographical novel is widely regarded as her finest work.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?