Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Big Sleep

Oh, how I love hardboiled novels. It started when I was maybe 13 or 14, when I saw Bogart in The Maltese Falcon. I was instantly in love...both with noir style films (and soon their literary counterpart) as well as Humphrey Bogart.

I'm not going to go into plot details. There's a private detective, and someone hires him, but the job isn't exactly what is initially presented, and then there are some dangerous dames, and some thugs, and people get shot, and somehow all the complexities of the crimes are put together in the end. Of course the intricacies are so, well, intricate, that though I finished this book only 12 hours ago, I really don't remember who killed who and for what reason anymore.

It's been a while since I read a novel in this style, and I was was struck by a the detail Chandler gives of each scene. Every room he walks into is described in depth. The rain isn't just rain, it was a "hard, wet rain." (As my grandfather used to say, it's those wet rains that I hate...the dry ones aren't so bad.) The carpet was as white as the "fresh fall snow." The scene is set up so clearly, that out of the hundres or thousands of rooms that you might imagine Philip Marlowe walking into, Chandler only allows you one. You know the color not just of the carpet, but the style and condition of the furniture, the window treatments, the height of the ceiling, the placement of everything. And it's been so long since I read Hammett and Cain that I don't recall if they're all like this, or just Chandler.

But what I really love about this style of novel is the one liners. They're fabulous. "Dead men are heavier than broken hearts." "Not being bullet proof was an idea I had to get used to." "Get up, angel. You look like a Pekinese." "You're no English mufflin yourself." And my favorite, that I intend to use someday: I went back to the office and sat in my swivel chair and tried to catch up on my foot-dangling.

In addition to his work as an author, Chandler wrote or co-wrote screenplays to some of the best noir films of the time: Double Indemnity, Strangers on a Train, and a personal favorite of mine (with one of my favorite lines: Bourbon straight with a bourbon chaser) which has aggregiously NOT been released on DVD in the US, the Blue Dahlia (not to be confused with the Black Dahlia). I wanted you to know that, just so that I could complain that the movie hasn't been released on DVD. Somebody needs to correct this oversight.

The Big Sleep was a nice break from my heavier reading. Ok, that was a lie. I put my heavier reading aside for The Big Sleep. I guess now I have to crawl back into my Henry James hole. :-(

1 comment:

Korean Rum Diary said...

I love The Big Sleep. Wrote my dissertation on it...