Long Goodbye, The

by Raymond Chandler

7/10

I wanted to like this more than I actually did. I like the idea of liking it. Strange. It’s got the great writing that pops off the page, the impossibly cool, incorruptible lone wolf Philip Marlowe (I’ll take him over Hammett’s Sam Spade any day), and pages full of fresh similes and snappy one-liners. You can pretty much open it up to any page and plop your finger down and the sentence your finger points at will tickle your brain. It’s got everything that The Big Sleep has (see my brief, cool review), just more of it. Lot’s more.

. . . Which leads me to my main reason for not liking it as much as I wanted to: the thing just drags on and onnn and onnnnnn. It’s sooo long, and it takes so long to get somewhere, even if that somewhere is in the general vicinity of some rather compelling conclusion.  It’s so long that the coolness wears off, the one-liners zip by unnoticed, the similes blur into the mundane.  In short, it gets stale.

Here’s the part where I admit that I was skeptical at picking up a 378-page detective novel. I didn’t understand how something that belongs to an inherently breezy genre could be almost 400 pages. I didn’t see how it could sustain itself, or my interest, for that long. And my skepticism was confirmed. Call it confirmation bias if you think that’s the case, but for me it’s just such a strange experience to be enjoying a book (for the most part, except for that long, draggy middle part) but every time you put it down you’ve made no visible progress. It doesn’t compute. And it just feels so looooooooong. I wanted this to be light but it was massive and dense instead.

But still, cool stuff overall, and much better than the 1973 movie (with due respect to Elliot Gould, whose performance I liked). This had more humanity in Terry Lennox, and more emotion from Marlowe. There’s a not-fully explained connection between the two men that is absolutely authentic nonetheless. I dug it. Here are two of my favorite passages:

She hung up and I set out the chess board. I filled a pipe, paraded the chessmen and inspected them for French shaves and loose buttons, and played a championship tournament game between Gortchakoff and Meninkin, seventy-two moves to a draw, a prize specimen of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, a battle without armor, a war without blood, and as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you could find anywhere outside an advertising agency. 186-7

Typing this out reminds me: one thing I liked about this book over Big Sleep is the more present social critique, of which the above is just a very slight example. The following isn’t as critique-y, it just hit me with its poetic rhythm:

So passed a day in the life of a P.I. Not exactly a typical day but not totally untypical either. What makes a man stay with it nobody knows. You don’t get rich, you don’t often have much fun. Sometimes you get beaten up or shot at or tossed into the jailhouse. Once in a long while you get dead. Every other month you decide to give it up and find some sensible occupation while you can still walk without shaking your head. Then the door buzzer rings and you open the inner door to the waiting room and there stands a new face with a new problem, a new load of grief, and a small piece of money. . .

She laughed very gently and said goodbye and hung up. I sat there for a while taking life seriously. Then I tried to think of something funny so that I could have a great big laugh. Neither way worked, so I got Terry Lennox’s letter of farewell out of the safe and reread it. It reminded me that I had never gone to Victor’s for that gimlet he asked me to drink for him. It was just about the right time of day for the bar to be quiet, the way he would have liked it himself, if he had been around to go with me. I thought of him with a vague sadness and with a puckering bitterness too. When I got to Victor’s I almost kept going. Almost, but not quite. I had too much of his money. He had made a fool of me but he had paid well for the privilege. 158-9

Anyway, I think I’ll still read Farewell, My Lovely. That’s how cool Marlowe is, and that’s how great a writer I think Chandler is.  Also, reading some good reviews by people convinced that this is a masterpiece, I’ll keep it around for a second reading at some later (and less breezy-mooded) date.

 

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