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Raymond Chandler - Farewell, My Lovely
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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 11:42 am    Post subject: Raymond Chandler - Farewell, My Lovely  Reply with quote

I hope everyone made it through this book and that we can think of some things to discuss here. I really loved it, but I must confess that if Marita's English weren't as good as it plainly is, I'd feel very guilty at having chosen it for this group read. I'd never cope with reading a book with prose this oblique in a second language. It's confusing enough even for the native speaker of English. Not only that, but there's quite a lot of unfamiliar vocab to get used to.

I'll just post some thoughts here to get the ball rolling. Excuse me if they aren't very well structured. I was ill and off work for about half of last week, and have been away for the weekend, and am going to be quite busy this week too, so am assembling some rather fragmented musings on Sunday night and Monday morning.

Chandler's language is exciting, isn't it, and his choice of certain words exhilarating. To take a sentence from early on:

The big man licked his whiskey sour impassively down the side of the thick squat glass.

Licked! His way of observing small details like this that is magnificent. The thought that anyone could lick a drink is unusual, but it enhances the image of the character that has already been created in the reader's mind. The character in question here is the bruiser Moose Malloy, larger than life in more ways than one. He is described early on crushing Marlowe's shoulder and then manhandling him upstairs into the bar. It's an effective way of showing us that Marlowe is vulnerable - physically, but also, we come to see, mentally. The common image of the hard-boiled private detective, I suspect, is of a hard and emotionless man with no weaknesses. Marlowe projects an image of emotionlessness, certainly, but time and again he makes the wrong decisions and his frailties are exposed. The effect, for me, is that he becomes all the more heroic (and cool) for being fallible.

I think I observed when I read The Big Sleep earlier in the year a certain similarity between aspects of Chandler's and Wodehouse's writing. Famously the two were both educated at Dulwich College, albeit a few years apart, and despite their writing in very different genres they share a certain punchiness of rhythm that adds to the funniness of their prose. Take one of the most famous images in this novel:

It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.

Wodehouse's clergymen don't generally act that way over blondes (perhaps Stinker Pinker does, I don't recall), but there is a sharpness to the rhythm that does occur in Wodehouse. The funniest writers are those with an instinct for the placement of words. I don't think you can rewrite the phrase 'A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window' and make it any better. Not a blonde who would have made a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window, but a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window. I don't know exactly why this is important, but it is. Perhaps I'm over-analysing. In Wodehouse the effect of this kind of thing is to make the reader laugh. Chandler does that too, but his writing is exciting and cool in a way that Wodehouse's isn't. Perhaps that arises from the context (or the content). Another bit:

He started the car away from the curb and tooled it neatly along a
shadowed street towards the ocean. The car reached the City Hall and
slid around into the police parking zone and I got out.

“Come round and see me some time,” Hemingway said. “I’ll likely be
cleaning spittoons.”

He put his big hand out. “No hard feelings?”

“M.R.A.” I said and shook the hand.

He grinned all over. He called me back when I started to walk away. He
looked carefully in all directions and leaned his mouth close to my ear.

“Them gambling ships are supposed to be out beyond city and state
jurisdiction,” he said. “Panama registry. If it was me that was--” he
stopped dead, and his bleak eyes began to worry.

“I get it,” I said. “I had the same sort of idea. I don’t know why I
bothered so much to get you to have it with me. But it wouldn’t work --
not for just one man.”

He nodded, and then he smiled. “M.R.A.” he said.


End of chapter. You may not understand exactly what's going on (even if you read it in context), but you go with it because you can tell from the rhetorical thrust of the writing that it's meant to be thrilling and satisfying -- and it is deeply satisfying to read, even if you don't quite get it.

This business about understanding what's going on is bothersome. Does it matter if you get lost? Because I certainly did. Chandler demands a lot of the reader. As in The Big Sleep, Marlowe is a constant presence, and as the book proceeds he has a series of one-on-one meetings with a number of vivid characters. You know that the individual plot strands will coalesce somewhere, and that these apparently unconnected people will turn out to be connected after all. But even if you anticipate this, there is a lot to keep track of, with the constant possibility that one character may not be who he seems. Chandler makes the reader a juggler, with the plot constructed from a number of balls that have to be kept in the air. I think that at the point of the revelation that Lindsay Marriott owned a trust deed to the house of Mrs Florian, I started to lose my coordination. Agatha Christie this ain't. You don't read it for comfort.

The complexity of the plot isn't the only uncomfortable thing about the book. What about Chapter 25? It's a remarkable piece of writing, this, a scene narrated by Marlowe as he is coming out of a heroin-induced stupor. Here is the end of it:

I walked. I walked. I walked.

Half an hour of walking and my knees were shaking but my head was
clear. I drank more water, a lot of water. I almost cried into the bowl while
I was drinking it.

I walked back to the bed. It was a lovely bed. It was made of roseleaves.
It was the most beautiful bed in the world. They had got it from Carole
Lombard. It was too soft for her. It was worth the rest of my life to lie
down in it for two minutes. Beautiful soft bed, beautiful sleep, beautiful
eyes closing and lashes falling and the gentle sound of breathing and
darkness and rest sunk in deep pillows.

I walked.

They built the Pyramids and got tired of them and pulled them down and
ground the stone up to make concrete for Boulder Dam and they built
that and brought the water to the Sunny Southland and used it to have a
flood with.

I walked all through it. I couldn’t be bothered.

I stopped walking. I was ready to talk to somebody.


It's such a perfect evocation of delirium. I dare say most of us haven't been on dope, but we probably know what it's like to feel delirious, perhaps with fever. Or just to be in that dream-place that lies between sleep and consciousness. I recognise things in this chapter. Is it more immediate because it's written in the first person, or would it have worked better if related by an omniscient narrator, I wonder?

Another thought. It's a whodunnit of sorts, but does it really matter who did it? Does the final revelation change our perspective on anything? Surely more important are a) the telling of the story, which is done with such style that the direction of the plot can feel as though it is hardly important and b) the creation of atmosphere, which comes from our being privileged to spend some time inside Marlowe's mind, as it were. Can you imagine Agatha Christie telling the same story? It might be more compelling on one level (that of wanting to know the outcome), but not on any other.

Anyway, I hope there's some food for thought. By a very happy coincidence, guess what book they will be discussing on the (inferior) Radio 4 version of A Good Read tomorrow? Yes! Perhaps we can allow their discussion to inform ours.


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Evie
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 12:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for those comments, Chibiabos!  As you say, the writing itself is thrilling and satisfying - Chandler said that the one thing that endured was style, and it's something that I feel far too few contemporary novelists pay enough attention to.

Your quotes are excellent, and part of what I love so much is the mixture of laconic, world-weary humour and passages of wonderful lyricism - given that the story is told by Marlowe, it makes his character utterly compelling.

The humour is fantastic - all those similes, all just fantastic.  My favourite may be 'Her mouth was the size of a prune and as smooth' - this is a description of Jessie Florian's busybody neighbour expressing disapproval of the demon liquor.  A lesser writer would have said 'the size of a prune and as wrinkled' - but that short sentence seems to sum up to me what is so brilliant about Chandler's prose style, the wryness, the subversion of expectations, the care and attention to detail, which, as you say, Chibiabos, is magnificent.

I am glad it wasn't just me who didn't always know what was going on!  I seem to remember Himadri saying that Chandler himself didn't really know what was going on in The Big Sleep...  But it did all hang together at the end, and the story grew on me - I found the plot a bit slow for a while, despite marvellous set pieces, but became increasingly engrossed.

Another thing I love is the way Chandler makes a detective story - so often a genre that is plot-driven - and makes characterisation so important.  He is economical with his minor characters, and yet devastatingly brilliant with it - we can picture and hear and even smell every person he describes, and they all come alive off the page - but Marlowe himself is a complex and sophisticated human being, explored in a sophisticated way by Chandler - just brilliant.  Yet he never lets it get introspective, despite the fact that the whole thing is seen from Marlowe's point of view, and character and plot seem inseparable.  Marvellous writing.

It is interesting that he and Wodehouse were educated at the same school - I would never have seen the connection until you drew it on Facebook, Chib, in terms of their use of similes; out of context, it's remarkable how much they share!  And their love of the English language - Marlowe even commends, and draws meaning from, one of the characters for using the subjunctive.

I also love that Marlowe eats soft-boiled eggs for breakfast.  I am so tempted to think this is in itself is a joke - since Marlowe is the archetypal 'hard-boiled' detective, in terms of the literary jargon applied to crime novels!

Great that it will be discussed on A Good Read this week.  I will post up some of my favourite bits when I have my copy of the novel to hand again - and really look forward to Marita's comments.

Oh, in case I didn't really say, I absolutely loved it too!


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 2:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks very much for that - very boring to say I agree with all you write, but I do. You say that everything hangs together at the end. That's another reason why I think the plot may be less important than the telling of the story. I don't think I quite buy the plot - it seems too improbable to be true, and in a less stylish writer I think it might have been pulled apart by critics. Chandler gets away with it because he's a brilliant writer of prose, and perhaps also because he makes things sufficiently confusing that people like me can't work out if there are massive improbabilities in the plot or not.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 2:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another thing to say - I have the 1944 film version saved on my TV recorder, so will try to watch that this week. I know Himadri thinks highly of it, so I'm looking forward to it.


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TheRejectAmidHair



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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 3:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think it’s one of Chandler’s innovations to the genre that he relegated plot to a comparatively low position in the pecking order. Such matters as style, theme, characterisation, etc. took precedence.

It’s quite a famous story that when Howard Hawks was filming The Big Sleep, he asked the scriptwriters (Leigh Brackett and William Faulkner, no less) who killed the chauffeur; when they didn’t now, he asked Chandler; and Chandler didn’t know either. And it doesn’t matter. This places Chandler at the opposite extreme from Agatha Christie, as much of the effect of Christie’s novels depends upon the clever intricacy of plot.

For many, Farewell My Lovely is the best of the series. It’s not quite as sleazy and as pessimistic as The Big Sleep; and all the recognisable Chandlerisms are correct and present, and at their most sparkling. My own favourite of the series is The Long Goodbye, in which Chandler follows up on the implications of his themes: here, Marlowe, by refusing to compromise his moral standards, is presented as lonely and isolated. It’s actually a rather sad novel, and many find it a bit ponderous compared to something like Farewell, My Lovely.

One of the main problems with filing these novels is that you can’t fit in so much plot into two hours, and so, it has to be thinned out. It’s true that the plot doesn’t matter so much, but the texture of the plot does- i.e. the sense of extreme intricacy of plot is important, even though it may not be so important to be able to untangle all those intricacies. Inevitably, the films seem a bit simpler than the novels. But there are many impressive things in Edward Dmytryk’s film – e.g. Moose Molloy’s first appearance, reflected in the window with the flashing lights; or the sequence in which Marlowe is attempting to recover from being doped. Dick Powell is surprisingly good as Marlowe, I think, and Claire Trevor is a marvellous femme fatale.



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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 6:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gareth after you have read several books by Raymond Chandler I think they can be reread for comfort just like visiting an old friend. Wink


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Evie
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 8:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, Chib, I agree the plot is implausible - I meant that I think I understood at the end how it all fitted together - but it was not convincing!  But as you say, the writing is what convinces us.

I agree with Himadri about the texture too - that's a good word - the way the different threads are woven together is partly what keeps the plot moving along.  But ultimately the plot is more of a device for the style and the characters, which is wonderful! I approve of that.  I don't mean style over substance - the characters provide the substance.

Style is still a bit of a dirty word these days - especially in my field of art history - but it's always been the thing that interests me most, and something I think is important to the meaning of a work of art (including literature).  As I say, too little attention is paid to style by too many contemporary novelists, in my view.


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TheRejectAmidHair



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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 9:16 pm    Post subject: Re: Raymond Chandler - Farewell, My Lovely Reply with quote

Chibiabos83 wrote:
Take one of the most famous images in this novel:

It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.

Wodehouse's clergymen don't generally act that way over blondes (perhaps Stinker Pinker does, I don't recall), but there is a sharpness to the rhythm that does occur in Wodehouse. The funniest writers are those with an instinct for the placement of words. I don't think you can rewrite the phrase 'A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window' and make it any better. Not a blonde who would have made a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window, but a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window. I don't know exactly why this is important, but it is. Perhaps I'm over-analysing.


No, I don't think you're over-analysing. I'd guess Chandler thought long and hard over the phrasing of each sentence. Mark Twain certainly did. If you consider the opening line of Huckleberry Finn:

You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", but that ain't no matter.

It flows nicely as you read it, but it caused Twain no end of trouble. He tried "unless you have read" and "if you haven't read" and about a dozen other variations until he hit on "without you have read". Similarly, I'd guess that what appears easy in Chandler only appears so because he put a lot of work into it.



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Evie
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 10:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, I think his language is very precise - intricately crafted to create that laid-back effect.  It really is a thing of wonder.

I have the Penguin Classic version that contains The Big Sleep (the only other one I have read), this one and The Long Goodbye - good value!


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 17, 2011 10:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

PS - is no one else convinced by my soft-boiled egg theory?   Wink



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