Raymond Chander's second novel is both more and less successful than his first. THE BIG SLEEP suffered from a plot that fell apart in midstream; FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, however, is much more consistent throughout. On the other hand, for all its twists and turns, THE BIG SLEEP was quite plausible; FAREWELL, MY LOVELY, however, is about as farfetched as you can get. But once again, such criticisms are almost beside the point: the great attraction is still Chandler's knock-you-flat prose, his tone of voice, his often imitated but seldom equaled style, and it is so powerful that it keeps you turning page after page after page.
In general, FAREWELL, MY LOVELY once more finds street-smart and super-savvy California P.I. Philip Marlowe sticking his nose where it has no business being--and when curiosity leads him to follow a massively built white man into a black nightclub he finds himself embroiled in a murder no one cares about solving... at least not until it begins to figure in what seems to be a completely different case with a high-society spin. And encounters with stolen jewels, a spiritualist racket, police corruption, and a gambling ship quickly follow.
Along the way Chandler again paints a gritty portrait of the seamy side of life. On this occasion, he takes a passing look at race, and makes the point that from a police point of view two standards apply: the authorities care nothing about the murder of a black man, but they treat a white man's murder very differently indeed. This portion of the novel is intrinsically controversial, for Chandler uses the slang and racial slurs common to the mean streets of his era--but it is worth noting that although Marlowe uses the same language, his attitude toward the blacks who appear in the novel is considerably different from that of the authorities, who could not care less about the murder of a black man who don't much care who knows it. And once again, Chandler graces his pages with dames and dandies, broads and bums--and he makes them live with remarkable vitality. The famous prose is as rich as ever, although noticeably less witty and quite a bit darker than that found in THE BIG SLEEP. We've stepped off the curb and into the gutter, Chandler seems to be saying, and we're walking in it all the way. Impressive stuff and a very entertaining read.
on May 14, 2001
Farewell My Lovely, Raymond Chandler's second novel in the Philip Marlowe series, transcends the genre it helped to create, and is now (deservedly) viewed by many as literature and as social criticism.
Chandler creates moods and telegraphs emotions via the poetic ramblings and outrageous similes from the mind of Philip Marlowe, the protagonist/detective/narrator who is picked up by the collar and dragged into a murder mystery that exposes not only the hypocrisy beneath the surface in the lifestyles of the rich and beautiful, but ultimately, the depravity of the human condition. And all of this is delivered with a caustic sense of humor, a wry wit, and a hypersensitivity to the visual world and it's translation into the language of the mean streets.
Although Chandler died shortly before I was born, I grew up in L.A., and I can say that the L.A. Chandler wrote of is in many ways the city of my childhood memories, so well did he capture the ambiance and ambivalence of the 'city of angels'.
Some have criticized his plotting and plausability, but emotion, action, and detail were what interested him the most, and in these he excelled. FAREWELL MY LOVELY must be viewed within the context of it's era (published in 1940) to be fully appreciated, but the flow of action, the visual aspect of it's language, and the insights into the very human conflict of corruption verses conscience are timeless.
This book, like the first in the Marlowe series (THE BIG SLEEP) was written at the height of Chandler's creative career, and exemplifies the style that has made him a writer's writer, possibly the most imitated author of the past century.
Raymond Chandler was such a master at his style of prose that you only have to read the first two paragraphs of FAREWELL, MY LOVELY to know exactly what sort of story you're in for. Those two paragraphs perfectly set up the plot that follows: a thriller crossing in and out of the racial divisions of 1940's Los Angeles involving seedy speakeasies, and off-shore gambling, with double-crossing as far as the eye can see. Wonderfully gritty stuff.
This particular Chandler novel has a lot going for it. The hero, Philip Marlowe, is as entertaining as ever. The setting is the familiar scene of other Chandler stories -- alive, heavy and oppressively Los Angeles. The plot is logical, but jumps around a lot, which is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the more it moves around, the more room Chandler has to incorporate evil-doings; I quite lost track of exactly how many crimes are committed or alluded to during the course of the book. No matter how farfetched it is, Chandler's prose is utterly gripping and absorbing.
I think Philip Marlowe must drink his weight in cheap liquor several times over during the course of this adventure, but you can't help but like the guy. He punches, he shoots, he boozes. He even solves the case by the end. He sure takes a beating in this one, but he keeps coming back for more. He's everything a pulp detective should be - angry, arrogant, determined, and with just a hint of pathos to make him interesting enough to carry the story.
The book as a whole is just too appealing and entertaining not to be a fun experience. Chandler is pretty much the benchmark for these sorts of stories about guns, police, and corruption, so if you like the genre, you might as well read the man who invented it. Tough guys yelling, "Beat it!" at each other might not be everyone's cup of tea, but Chandler is so good as telling the story that any inadequacies in the conventions of this genre are wallpapered over with some slick dialog and snappy comebacks.
I read FAREWELL, MY LOVELY more for the great atmosphere and tone than for its overall plot. The fact that the storyline wraps up nicely at the end is merely a bonus. But the real way to enjoy this book is to just let the atmosphere, the characters and the prose just wash over you.
I have read David Goodis, James Cain, and the two Library of America volumes of American noir from the 1930s -- 1950s, but I have only now read this book, "Farewell, My Lovely" (1940), my first by Raymond Chandler (1888 -- 1959). As do Goodis and Cain, for example, Chandler takes what is often regarded as the formulaic, stereotyped genre of American crime writing and transforms it into literature.
"Farewell, My Lovely" is Chandler's second novel featuring the private investigator Philip Marlowe, who became the model for many similar characters. The book is told in the first person and is set in Los Angeles and its environs. The plot of the novel is coincidence-ridden and somewhat patched together. It moves from a murder in an African American gambling establishment called Florian's to a jewel heist, a psychic, gambling ships, several more murders, and femme fatales. It takes time to get into the plotting and some of the elements appear not to add up.
The plotting is the least important element of this book, but at times it stands in the way. Much of the story gets tied together well at the end and it builds. "Farewell, My Lovely" has many other qualities that make it rewarding. These include Chandler's language, characterizations, sense of place, and view of the human condition, as I describe a little more below.
Marlowe speaks in the tough, hard-boiled style of a crime novel, but he has the poet's eye for detail as much as the gimlet eye of the detective. In particular, he shows a gift for the strikingly appropriate and imaginative metaphor or simile that leaps off almost every page.
Although a detective easily becomes a stock figure, Chandler's Marlowe is a complex person with vulnerabilities and flaws beneath a hard exterior. He is thoughtful as well as hard-drinking. Similarly, virtually every character in this book is well-defined. Chandler finds both good and bad in unlikely places and is attuned to the difficulties of understanding and categorizing any person.
Then, there is the portrayal of Los Angeles. Chandler concentrates of the poor seedy sections but also describes more economically comfortable areas together with suburbs and the water. He offers a sense of place and an eye for detail. He is one of a select group of writers, including Cain, Nathanael West, John Fante, and Charles Bukowski who make Los Angeles come to life.
Finally, Chandler offers a view of the human condition that includes each of these three elements and more and that turn "Farewell, My Lovely" into literature. The novel is sad and pessimistic in its view of life but shows as well understanding. "He's a sinner -- but he's human", one of the characters says to Marlowe late in the book in an observation that applies to the entire story. Individuals try to make their ways among corruption, sleaze, frustration, and sadness; but with toughness and a suggestion of the importance of fighting for the good. There are few heroes and few villains.
Here is a passage from late in the novel that captures the features I have tried to describe. Marlowe is lying in bed in a cheap waterfront hotel and thinks about some of the events and people that have figured in the story up to that point.
"It got darker. I thought; and thought in my mind moved with a kind of sluggish stealthiness, as if it was being watched by bitter and sadistic eyes, I thought of dead eyes looking at a moonless sky, with black blood at the corners of the mouths beneath them. I thought of nasty old women beaten to death against the posts of their dirty beds. I thought of a man with bright blond hair who was afraid and didn't quite know what he was afraid of, who was sensitive enough to know that something was wrong and too vain or too dull to guess what it was that was wrong. I thought of beautiful rich women who could be had. I thought of nice slim curious girls who lived alone and could be had too, in a different way. I thought of cops, tough cops that could be greased and yet were not by any means all bad... Fat prosperous cops with Chamber of Commerce voices.... Slim, smart and deadly cops... who for all their smartness and deadliness were not free to do a clean job in a clean way. I thought of sour old goats ... who had given up trying. I thought of Indians and psychotics and dope doctors." [Names of characters have been deleted from the quote.]
I was glad to get to know Chandler and Philip Marlowe at last through "Farewell, My Lovely". I also learned a great deal from some of the many thoughtful reader reviews of this book here on Amazon.
on December 19, 2007
This is the second Raymond Chandler novel I have read after "The Long Goodbye". I rarely ever read fiction but I can not overemphasize how much I enjoy reading Chandler's novels. These stories are most definitely NOT "page turners" and I mean that as a compliment. A "page turner" leaves the reader in suspense about what is going to happen or what is going to be revealed, often leading me, at least, to superficially scanning much of the prose in order to move ahead more quickly. There is some of this suspense in "Farewell My Lovely" (actually more than in "Goodbye" which spends more time philosophizing) but it is in taking every sentence as it comes, rolling it around in your mouth and savoring the flavor that gives the real pleasure in these novels.
What particularly stands out in this story is the shades of gray of everything. Whereas many detective stories try to fit all the pieces together at the end and show us good guys and bad guys, Chandler's protoganist PI Philip Marlowe sees the world in shades of gray. He doesn't attempt to get to the bottom of people's motivations, and that includes himself. At the beginning of the story, he sees a big white man enter a black nightclub and then sees a black man come flying out the door. For no apparent reason, and admitting that it was none of his business, Marlowe goes in to see what is happening and gets drawn into the mystery. We see people commit murders and yet Marlowe feels that they are not "all bad". Marlowe encounters some policemen who are good, some who are bad and some who are in the middle. In the end, Marlowe figures out more or less what happened, but admits there are holes in his theory, and he can't completely explain why the characters he encountered acted the way they did. This is the way the real world operates and Chandler/Marlowe is telling us to be honest with ourselves and to admit that we often don't know why we do the things we do and whether we are being really consistent.
I find it interesting to note that although this story was written almost 70 years ago, it shows a world that is pretty indistinguishable to our own. The story does not seem "dated". We see the materialist Los Angeles society that I grew up in during the 1960's and 1970's, and the type of people who live on its fringes. The only jarring note I encountered showing the changes in technology since 1940 was when Marlowe mentions he saw an "ice truck" parked on the street. Well, I guess time does move on.
In closing, this novel has one of the most famous Chandler-quotations of them all: "I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat, and a gun."
_Farewell My Lovely_ was written in 1940, and it shows in the way in which African-Americans especially (but also Jews and women) are referred to and portrayed. The racial epithets, the expectations (just shy of stereotype), and the place these groups have in society are all reflections of pre-feminist, pre-civil rights America. At first this bothered me, but taken in context, it is a telling snapshot of LA (and America) at a certain time; don't let this dissuade you from the book. The dialogue is classic noir, the plot (while a bit stretched), loads of fun.
The book begins at a trot, and quickly escalates into a run as Marlowe is unintentionally pulled into a cyclone of violence, corruption and deception. Pulled into a bar by a behemoth of a man, by the time they both leave, two men are dead and another has a broken arm. Marlowe's large friend, the murderer, just of of prison, is searching for the woman who framed him. As the story progresses, you never really know how the pieces of the story fit together - no one (except of course, Marlowe) is who they say they are, the interrelationships and connections between characters never certain. And while the conclusion to the story is both implausable (I wonder if Chandler found himself written into a corner or if he intended things to resolve the way they did) and awkward, the experience is akin to riding a roller-coaster at night: it is thrilling, exhilerating and you want to do it again. I feel the same way with Chandler - in spite of my uncomfortability with the way race and gender is written, I will be back for more. A highly recommended writer.
Today, Black is Beautiful, but when Raymond Chandler was writing his classic noir mysteries, White was Right. In California, discrimination wasn't the law, just the norm. Chandler was born in Chicago, but raised in England, and his racism was of the genteel British variety. A Son of the Empire looked after the inferior races, but the idea that they might not BE inferior never entered his mind. The White Man's Burden, you know.
This is one of those cases that the incorrigibly curious P.I. Philip Marlowe falls into because he just can't seem to mind his own damned business. He reluctantly accompanies a huge ex-con into a "colored joint." The unforgettable Moose Malloy is looking for his girl friend Velma, but he's been in the pen for eight years and hasn't heard from Velma for six. All hell breaks loose, but as weary LAPD Detective Nulty says, it's just a "shine killing" and won't even rate a newspaper story. That's why they gave the case to him.
Of course, Marlowe keeps poking around, even though no one is paying him for it. Eventually a white guy is murdered and that causes some stir. There's a beautiful rich dame with a tame elderly husband and a beautiful non-rich dame whose father was a cop and who's almost as nosy as Marlowe. They both like him and he likes them, but nothing doing. Marlowe is a loner and knows it. Besides, as he says, "All woman are the same after the first nine."
Raymond Chandler was a Momma's Boy who was well into his thirties before his controlling mother died and he was finally able to marry the much older woman with whom he had fallen in love. He remained married to her until her death and outlived her by only a few years. It's reported that he sometimes hit on secretaries at the film studios where he wrote scripts, but he was far from the babe-magnet that he created in Philip Marlowe. Marlowe probably had his first nine women by the time he was twenty. Did Chandler himself ever get that far?
There's a lot about cops. Stupid cops, smart cops. Clean cops, dirty cops. Young cops who approach their jobs with white-hot dedication and old cops who gave up years ago. Chandler seems to have been trying to give cops a fair shake, but southern California police departments were caught in an trap created by a swiftly-growing population and a wide-open economy that attracted the greedy and unscrupulous. Nobody was FROM California. They all moved there from someplace else and brought their problems with them.
It's an incredible book, from beginning to end. There will never be another Raymond Chandler and today's writers should measure themselves against him.
on July 23, 1998
Only THE LONG GOODBYE merits higher place in the shining canon of prose-poet Raymond Chandler. This violent, shabby, hilarious, and ultimately very moving novel rockets P.I. Phillips Marlowe through the darkest, seamiest side of Chandler's textured world Los Angeles. In no other novel does Chandler's razor sharp and witty prose slice so sharply, and his sense of tragic irony ("It isn't funny that a man should die, but it is funny that a man should die for so little") reaches its zenith. Hard to put down, impossible to forget.
on August 20, 2014
Ah, the second in the Philip Marlowe adventures...This is a classic. Mr. Chandler proves his way not only as a mystery writer but as a writer in general. Chandler was the king of metaphors and similes (i.e. "a heart as big as a beer truck"), the story is told in a very relaxed almost stream of consciousness way that makes you feel very at ease with Marlowe the narrator and protagonist.
Marlowe is hired by a very large, very mean tempered thug with a soft heart named Moose Malloy who just got out of jail to help find his sweetheart Velma. Meanwhile Marlowe is also hired to help pay a ransom, when things go wrong on the ransom case, Marlowe has investigates further and discovers a world of blackmail and murder which is also connected directly to Malloy's case.
This is one of Chandler's more brilliant books. If you have seen either of the movie versions, do yourself a favor and forget them entirely...go read the book. It is much better and very different.
on July 16, 2012
The second Philip Marlowe novel written by Raymond Chandler, and also the second one read by me was already familiar to me, having seen two film versions. Therefore, this story was the first real introduction to the character (Robert Altman's version of The Long Goodbye bears very little resemblance to any Marlowe novel I've read).
I walk away from a Marlowe novel with an incomplete understanding of all the intricate mechanisms of the plot and how they fall into place (although Farewell, My Lovely is more straightforward than The Big Sleep in that respect) although I leave the book fully cognizant of a world created in a specific time and place with a self-contained atmosphere and a self-contained and pulpishly poetic language.
In Farewell, My Lovely, Philip Marlowe is trying to mind his own private eye business but somehow ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, somehow running afoul of crooks as well as cops. A simple case of tracking down an old flame for a massive ex-boxer turned convict is never going to be simple with Marlowe. His encounters with seedy crooks, smugglers, dope peddlers and gambling joint operators provide the reader with a tour of, to use an overworn phrase, the `underbelly of society.' With Chandler, the law enforcement officers and the laws of the government they are sworn to protect are often as corrupt as any of the pseudo legitimate businessmen/crooks.
Culturally and sociologically, this is an interesting depiction of the U.S. in 1940. The racial attitudes are probably pretty typical of the time although aside from occasional uses of the n-word, Chandler doesn't exploit stereotypes as much as most of the films of the time period. Marlowe's attitude toward marijuana also seems to be fairly non-judgmental, unlike what one would expect of many of the law enforcers of that time.
Marlowe is a collection of contradictions. On one hand, he can be as brutal and deadly as he needs to be although I don't recall him intentionally killing anyone. In this novel, I don't believe he kills anyone at all. On the other, he is sensitive to washed up losers such as Jessie Florian and he seems to want to believe that others are as principled as he is. Unlike many other popular private eyes, he seems at least somewhat cultured and even quotes Shakespeare on a couple of occasions. If one accepts the prose style as the creation of Marlowe rather than as simply the mouthpiece for Raymond Chandler, then Marlowe has a very poetic view of his world and describes it in metaphors that have been parodied to death and yet Marlowe has used the perfect set of words to describe what he sees.
Chandler's plots have been criticized for their contrivance and implausibility. Implausible they may be, but plots are not why I read Raymond Chandler's Marlowe stories. I'm reading them for the reasons I enumerated. I am reading them for the unique world view of a character who wears the necessary armor to do battle in a corrupt world and yet wants to believe in a world of chivalry and moral order.