13 January 2009

"The Big Sleep" by Raymond Chandler : A Review

The Big Sleep is a famous book famously filmed in 1946 with Humphrey Bogart in the lead role of Philip Marlowe. Fans of literature will be interested to note that William Faulkner, who was himself famous for novels evoking the "white trash" side of life in the southern US, was one of the screen writers, as was Leigh Brackett, who is better known for her SF works.

The Big Sleep was first published in 1939. The author,Chandler, had fought in World War I and had turned to writing during the depression years, a time when everyone was trying everything they could in order to earn some money. The bleakness of this seeps into the world he describes and the character he created in Philip Marlowe.

The narrator, Philip Marlowe, is summoned to a mansion and asked to investigate a case of blackmailed that is being waged against a dying old millionaire's daughter. Marlowe accepts the case largely because he likes the old man.

The plot soon becomes tangled. This is partly because everyone assumes that he has actually been asked to search for the old man's missing son in law. The old man's two daughters have their own agendas and weave in and out of a story that involves many characters of varying courage and morality. Their motives mainly revolve around money, but not always.

Every character that Marlowe meets gets a lengthy description. He is a detective, after all. He notices things.

Interestingly, something that doesn't happen in many detective books, especially modern ones, is the importance of the weather in the story. A brewing storm has an effect of the mood, the resulting rain has an effect on the evidence.

The Big Sleep has its funny moments and its sadness. Modern readers might have to be patient with the descriptive passages. Attentive readers will be rewarded with the realisation that the descriptions are not cliches. This book was written before the cliches of TV.

The Big Sleep is recommended reading.

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