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The Big Sleep (A Philip Marlowe Novel) Paperback – July 12, 1988
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From Library Journal
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : Vintage Crime/Black Lizard; Reprint edition (July 12, 1988)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 231 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0394758285
- ISBN-13 : 978-0394758282
- Lexile measure : 660L
- Item Weight : 9.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.13 x 0.63 x 7.94 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #21,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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If you've not read anything by Raymond Chandler, then the first thing that you'll notice is his descriptive writing. I love it! Take a simple phone booth call, "I dropped my nickel and dialed his number just for fun." There are too many great lines to count, but another of my favorites is, "A few tentative raindrops splashed down on the sidewalk and made spots as large as nickels." I can almost hear Humphrey Bogart reading the book to me.
The film is best known for its confusion, but the book irons those issues straight out. What is really interesting to me is how the then-modern world saw itself. They refer to old fashioned values as Victorian. Homosexuality was out there in a kind of don't ask don't tell way, much like the 80s, actually. However, they were not afraid to notice it. In fact, one man goes both ways in the book! Casual sex did exist, despite what the Hollywood Hays Code wanted everyone to believe. However, I see a lot of misinformed folks making statements about this. City life was different than small-town life. A small town in California is incredibly different than a small town in other parts of the country. Morals are only what a community makes them to be. They shouldn't be forced on anyone and this book actually kind of leads you to that kind of understanding. Morals are personal, not law. Too many confuse that these days.
The steady paced reader could finish this book in less than 7 hours, without any breaks. However, I didn't read it at a steady pace, unless you call crawling along a steady pace and in a way that's really what it was. I liked to savor his words. Raymond Chandler is a descriptive genius. Now there comes a problem too. When there is too much of it, it kind of sounds overdone. There were only a couple of times though that I saw this problem. I have to admit that his craft was interesting because he normally balanced it with interesting dialog with a lot of sarcasm. "... you have to hold your teeth clamped around Hollywood to keep from chewing on stray blondes."
The slanguage is fascinating. If you've never read anything like this before, you're sure to learn a whole bunch of new slang. For example, a police badge is called a "buzzer" and I think "buttons" was police, which is probably referring to their uniforms if I even had that right but you get the idea.
The story is actually two of them. There is a link between them but this easily could have been broken up into two novellas. If I had to make a complaint, it would be the very ending. I think more explanation of someone's intention is necessary but I think that's only an error of time and science. In that day, health and the psyche were still in the early stages and many things they believed then are not necessarily how it worked. I know that sounds cryptic but it's the best way I can describe it without spoiling a single thing.
All in all, it's simply a fantastic book! I think even those who don't like mysteries would enjoy it because of its prose alone. If you're easily offended though, stay away. This is not a book for those kinds of pansy people, which I think Chandler would call them today. This is about what people were like and the morals that they had. It is to be enjoyed, not scorned.
Finishing the book - I came away unsatisfied on several front and some quick research help solidify my problems despite the novel being on many top-100 lists. First - Chandler combined two short stories and combined characters in writing the Big Sleep. This is evident at the 2/3 mark when the case makes a major turning point. It makes the novel seem a little disjointed. The second problem is more modern - some of the descriptions and actions (especially the women in the story) are at best problematic or at worst offensive. They aren't sophisticated characters but rather bad cliches that were cliches even in the 40s. I really expected a better book and regret that it came away a little disappointed. I still give it 3-stars for the overall prose, descriptions of 1940s Los Angeles, and the fact it is a considered a classic novel -- only with a caveat.
If you're not familiar with the name Philip Marlowe, think Humphrey Bogart, who played him onscreen. As Chandler himself said of Bogart after the filming of The Big Sleep, "Bogart can be tough without a gun. Also, he has a sense of humor that contains that grating undertone of contempt." All of which comes through clearly in the novel.
The classic first Philip Marlowe novel
The Big Sleep was published in 1939, well before the US entry into World War II. The country was still reeling from the Great Depression after nearly a decade. General Sternwood, the wealthy man who hires Marlowe at the outset of the story, is said to have a fortune of four million dollars. Translate that into today's deflated currency, and it's roughly $80 million.
Wise-guy patter and acting tough
The story revolves around General Sternwood's two spoiled young daughters. Carmen is not yet eighteen, and she's not very bright. Vivian, who's several years older and clearly more intelligent, was briefly married to a former IRA brigade commander who suddenly left her months earlier. And somehow her husband's disappearance seems to be connected to the blackmail attempt that the general has hired Marlowe to thwart. This being hard-boiled fiction, Marlowe will naturally have many opportunities to show off his wide-guy patter and act tough. And of course he'll discover that all the threads he's following as he digs deeper into the circumstances surrounding the blackmail effort are closely intertwined.
It's easy to see how this novel has come to be seen as a template for the hard-boiled detective tales of the 1940s and 50s. Marlowe is, of course, the avatar of that breed. Chandler endows him with all the requisite traits, from a menacing look to a fast mouth and a taste for beautiful women. But haven't we had enough of these men by now?
About the author
Raymond Chandler's first stories appeared in Black Mask magazine during the early years of the Depression. Later, he came to be considered one of the founders of the "hard-boiled" school of detective fiction. Black Mask also published Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, and others. In all their work, the dialogue is crisp, the detective is tough and a wise guy, and the bodies pile up. It's all a little much looking back from the perspective of eighty years.
Top reviews from other countries
Philip Marlowe is the writer/narrator of the story, a Private Detective operating around Los Angeles, whose lone perspective causes 'The Big Sleep' to be both alluring and beautifully descriptive. This is a book to pay close attention to. A book where virtually everyone in the story has lost their sense of moral judgement. Everyone perhaps, except Philip Marlowe.
If you've seen 'The Big Leibowski' or even 'Blue Velvet', you would be surprised by how original and ahead of it's time these films were on their release, but, after reading 'The Big Sleep', it would seem that Chandler had a subtle influence on these films and many more.
It's written with passion and reveals almost near genius talent in it's descriptions of scenes and dialogue. The story is fairly complicated but not impossible to comprehend, but man, it is definitely a level of writing that is very rare and reaches it's conclusions very, very well. Definitely worth getting hold of and studying carefully, as it is quite obvious on finishing that Chandler was clearly ahead of the game. I enjoyed it immensely.
Basically it is very sexist is what I’m trying to say and whilst I don’t condone the attitudes of yesteryear I accept what was the reality then. It’s just as well that as we read the last page of the book and on closing the back cover that we also entomb some of the attitudes within it.
I hasten to add that this doesn’t detract from the ultimate quality of the prose. Chandler isn’t an eminent writer for nothing. He has an uncanny knack of getting you hooked and reeling you in to the last paragraph and I’m not complaining.
I enjoyed Chandler’s sharp wit and had to laugh out loud at his routine quips and observations about society in general. I must say though that I had to research some of the American slang which even in the States has probably vanished from general usage.
Chandler is an accomplished writer which is why his popularity has endured so long. Reading his book does transport the reader back into the 40’s where it is unavoidable to hear the tones of Humphrey Bogart narrating the theme as he makes his next move. I even caught myself imagining the scenes in monochrome as Marlowe ruminated over the course of events.
Now that I have read the first book in the series, I will take a short break and return when the mood takes me. I’m beginning to miss Phillip Marlowe already, maybe I’ll take a look at his next antics, I believe that he will be saying Farewell my lovely to some dumb Broad oops!