This is why I love book groups. The Big Sleep has been waiting in the wings for ages and I would most certainly have left it there if one of my book groups had not added it to the list for September. It was not an easy book to read -- so much is packed in those 231 pages. It is truly an experience I would not have missed. The cryptic prose is filled with rich images and the world of Philip Marlowe leaps off the page. This was undoubtedly a pioneer in its era and will be considered a classic for many years to come.
I haven't read an old-fashioned detective novel until now. While it jumped right into the plot with non-stop action, I was still a bit troubled by the sexist and homophobic threads that ran through the book. Now, I know it was written in 1939 so it was a book of its time, but that didn't make certain parts of it any easier to read.
I would not say I was surprised when Phillip Marlowe slapped a hysterical woman. I laughed when all women wanted to sleep with him, even though he couldn't be bothered with any of them, even when one shows up naked in his own bed when he comes home. It wasn't surprising even when he met a gay man, but wow, that passage was so extremely homophobic that I felt uncomfortable.
I wanted to ignore those parts, but they were sprinkled throughout the book. I could say that Marlowe didn't have much respect for women or gay men, but really, he didn't have much respect for anyone. He did think he was smarter than everyone and most of the time he was, so he got away with it a lot.
Even though it sounds like I have a lot of negative things to say, I still enjoyed the story and his character. I just wanted him to open up his mind a little about the way he thinks about things. He probably won't in the other books in the series, but I do still want to read them.
Prose that sticks to you like wet cement. Heavy and coarse, but easy to swallow like hard liquor. It's a book that grabs you by the teeth and performs a root canal on your heartstrings, dipping you into the seedy world of rich people who don't have anything better to do with their money that kill each other. It's the sort of book that makes you want to read more books like it, but you always have to shower afterwards. There's something dirty about it, even if it seems clean. Somehow it's illicit, even if it seems normal. It's naughtiness tied up in glamor.
That's how I'd describe The Big Sleep, and that's how I'd describe the work of Raymond Chandler in general. His writing is fun and engaging, quick and easy, but has a tinge of filth that makes you uneasy. You always feel like you're reading something that you shouldn't, which is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, some aspects of the book will seem dated to a modern and "socially-conscious" reader, but if you can put your mind in the context of the 1940s the book will come alive. It teems with life, style, and jazz. Don't read this one if you need a safe-space, because Chandler doesn't care about your emotional protection. Some of the stuff in the book is downright ugly, old-fashioned, and not pleasant, but it's honest to the time and the world. Philip Marlowe isn't a nice guy, and he'll be the first person to tell you that.
"Do you think that's ethical?" he is asked at one point.
"Yeah, I do," he responds.
The book is moral grey area after moral grey area, and none of it is pretty.
My online book group is doing a Marlowe challenge this year, so I'll be reading one book per month from this series. Anyway: Loved this. It’s easy to see Chandler’s influence on Joseph Hansen, one of my all-time favorite mystery writers. I like Marlowe. He's my kinda guy. I have some questions about him based on some things he said, but hopefully the other books will answer them for me. I really liked the descriptions Chandler uses. They're very visual and spot on.
Can’t wait to read book two next month!
Classic noir. If you like "tough guy" detectives, you'll love this.
I'm going to stop reading all these hard-boiled detective stories: now I want a gat--or a sap--or both
I've never read a book like this and probably would not have read this one if I didn't see it on a list. Once I got into it it was pretty good.
One of my favorite Humphrey Bogart movie is “The Big Sleep” where he portrays Raymond Chandler’s private detective, Philip Marlowe. As Chandler expresses through his character Marlowe, the detective’s life is not at all what is portrayed in works of the period. Marlowe says the job is a lot grittier and more complicated than he’s read in novels with Philo Vance as the detective. This novel differs from the movie, for whatever reason so you get two different stories in many respects. The novel is listed as one of the best 1001 books that one should read before experiencing “The Big Sleep.” I agree.
Phoebe calls Chandler the father of the "hard-boiled, noir detective". Maybe so but no one should forget a equally famous American writer, Dashiell Hammet. Although Chandler was born before Hammet I have always looked upon Hammet as the more interesting writer of the two. Hammet gave us Sam Spade and Chandler gave us Philip Marlowe. Tough to choose between them so it is best to read both writers. Each writer eventually ran out of steam, ideas, health or some combination of what gets us all in the end.
Overall, I liked The Big Sleep. It kind of drags at times, and the homophobia of the time is a little hard to take, but Chandler writes with blunt, dark poetry, and Philip Marlowe is a great tarnished white knight of a character. I'm a big fan of the movie, and it's nice to see the source is darker and grittier than the movie could be at the time.
"Dead men are heavier than broken hearts."
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