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The World of Raymond Chandler: In His Own Words (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) Paperback – November 10, 2015
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“Terrific . . . Day allows Chandler to elucidate [his] vision himself. He was a penetrating, thwarted, breathtakingly intelligent person.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A fresh new opportunity to savor the melancholy magic of a private eye so often found sitting alone in his small Hollywood office.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Barry Day stretches Chandler’s limber language like a skein across the skeleton of his life, knitting in the spaces in between with his own editorial commentary. . . . Even the greenest Chandler novice may find much here that tantalizes.” —The New York Times
“A tour of Chandler’s sinister, neon-lit world. . . . A splendid complement of the literary to the visual. . . . Essential for any Chandler aficionado.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A remarkable book. . . . A fascinating and convincing portrait of a writer who, using the material of his own life and his convictions, refined pulp into literature. More than any biography I’ve read, this book stirred in me a new sympathy for Chandler to match the admiration I’ve always felt.” —Dean Koontz, bestselling author of What the Night Knows
“A solid introduction to Chandler’s work. It includes some fine stuff you won’t find in other bios and illuminates Chandler’s life and times ‘like a swung curtain of crystal beads’.” —The Boston Globe
“Will equally satisfy his fans and readers unfamiliar with the noir master.” —Shelf Awareness
“I enjoyed every page. I’ve had a collection of Chandler stories waiting unread on my shelf for years and years (The Simple Art of Murder). Barry Day’s The World of Raymond Chandler has prompted me to pull it down and place it at the top of my queue. I can’t think of any higher praise.” —Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan
“Barry Day’s book is a welcome reminder of just what a great writer Raymond Chandler was, and also illuminates his life—Who knew he went to an English public school?—and the whole phenomenon of Los Angeles, and the way then and now the sleazy and the corrupt live cheek by jowl with the rich and glamorous. A pleasure to read!” —Michael Korda, author of Hero and Clouds of Glory
About the Author
Barry Day was born in England and received his M.A. from Balliol College, Oxford. Day has written about Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Johnny Mercer, P. G. Wodehouse, and Rodgers and Hart. He has written and produced plays and musical revues showcasing the work of Noël Coward, the Lunts, Oscar Wilde, and others. Day is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Trustee of the Noël Coward Foundation and was awarded by Queen Elizabeth the Order of the British Empire for services to British culture in the U.S. He lives in New York, London, and Palm Beach.
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There are nine sections: Chandler as Atlantic writer, split between two homes and cultures; the writing process; Philip Marlowe, Chandler’s protagonist and alter ego; cops and crime; the city of the angels; Hollywood; women in life and fiction; writing, part 2; and the final farewell. These are solid, organizing themes. The editor is providing us a sense of Chandler’s experience, of his world, as writer and man. There is no attempt to fill in all of the blanks of his life, e.g., the treatment of his mother by her family when she was forced to return to England after Chandler’s father left. For those details the reader will want to read an actual biography. I recommend Tom Hiney’s (1997).
This compilation reminds us of Chandler’s consummate skill as a stylist. He was not much for plots or situations, but he excelled and achieved immortality as a line-by-line, word-by-word writer. Billy Wilder chose to work with him because of a single line from The High Window: “He had hair growing out of his ear long enough to catch a moth.” Who writes like that? Who could write like that, Wilder thought. Such phrases were very hard-won, the work of a writer who had studied Latin, Greek, French and German and mastered the English of two quite different cultures. The World of Raymond Chandler is filled with them.
Chandler was also one of the world’s truly great letter writers. Frank MacShane’s selection of them (1981) should be in every reader’s library. For years a mainstay on remainder tables, there are many copies still available for a pittance from Amazon’s booksellers—one of the great literary bargains of all time.
Barry Day’s selected quotations are fulsome and apt. He has combed through Chandler’s works and, obviously, created a vast system of files and subject areas. The reader is the beneficiary. He has also added a multiplicity of photographs—239 in all. Some are familiar; some are not. These include stills from films, jacket art and candids. They enrich the book immensely and underline the contrasts and complements between word and image with which Chandler the screenwriter and script doctor had to conjure.
Released by Knopf just in time for Christmas giving, this is the perfect present for a Chandler reader. It can be ‘read in’ as well as ‘read through’. Read it now and then read it whenever you need to remind yourself of the manner in which a writer can develop a sense of craft that is sometimes heart-breaking in its achievement. Chandler said that you can only learn from the second-rate writers because the great writers have a magic that is inexplicable and unapproachable. The magic is here, in full force.
However, the subtitle here, "In His Own Words," made me feel like this might not shatter my love of Chandler's writing. And happily, I was right! Editor Barry Day provides a basic framework and the connective explanations needed to make this coherent, but 95% of the words in this book are Chandler's not Day's. Through them, we begin to see a deeply unhappy man who never found as much acceptance or approval as he craved, but who stubbornly insisted on writing and living his own way anyway. I can respect him for that.
Chandler along with Hamett, Cain and McDonald had an immense impact on American popular literature and cinema. He was twice nominated for Academy Awards for his screenplays and several films of his novels helped to make the careers of Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, Fred McMurray, Lauren Bacall and Barbara Stanwyck. Chandler wrote for both Howard Hawks and Alfred Hitchcock. Additionally, Chandler wrote extensively on the craft of writing as it relates to the genres of hard boiled and noir detective fiction.
Notable chapters in The World of Raymond Chandler In His Own Words include those on his birth, childhood and growing up in Chicago, Nebraska and the England, the development of his writing style for the pulp literature market, the urban history of Los Angles, and his literary and film industry criticism. Barry Day relies almost exclusively on Chandler's novels, short stories and personal letters; most of the book is Chandlers words organized by Day whose transitions within chapters are clear and concise.