Your Favorite Book Sucks: 'The Big Sleep'

'Your Favorite Book Sucks' is an ongoing column, written by different people, that takes a classic or popular book and argues why it isn't really all that great. Confrontational, to be sure, but it's all in good fun, so please play nice.


I admit nothing, because I committed no crime.

It’s not a crime to fail – no, excuse me – to refuse to finish a book, especially when the refusal is beyond your control. The Big Sleep is certainly accurately titled; I’ve tried three times to get through it, and all three times I’ve made it to page 9 or 10 before diving into the sweet, welcoming arms of Morpheus. The title should  be The Big Snooze. My God, what a bore! I am perfectly willing to state that the diatribe you are currently reading is based on precisely 4.629629% of the bore in question.

How is it possible to turn a story about a nutty and decrepit millionaire in a wheelchair, his two psychopathic daughters, and murders galore into the dullest book this side of Pat Boone’s A Miracle a Day Keeps the Devil Away? First, the writer must be a raging alcoholic. Chandler fit that bill perfectly. It is Raymond Chandler above all who is responsible for the absurd idea that sitting down with a typewriter and a bottle of booze is the key to a productive writing life. He turned shit out, all right. But it was just that – shit. The Big Sleep’s first 10 pages are so disjointed and unintelligible that one is forced to fight his or her way from sentence to sentence, just to make sense of each one separately. Attempting to link them logically is impossible.

The first sentence is pure nonsense:

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.

There are several outstanding idiocies in this single opening sentence alone:

First of all, rain is always wet. That is its nature. Rain is never, ever dry. To say that the rain in the foothills was wet is beyond idiotic; it’s insulting.

But let’s ignore this particular aspect of the earth's natural phenomena and go along with the preposterous idea that this particular rain was unusual in that it was wet and deserved to be described as such by Chandler. All right, then: how can the foothills, drenched with this “hard” (and wet) rain, possibly be characterized by their “clearness,” especially if the sun was “not shining”? When it rains “hard” (and wet), it is generally not clear outdoors. In fact, in my 55 years on the planet I cannot recall a single instance when it was raining hard (and wet) and the sun wasn’t shining and yet it remained clear. What Chandler is describing is an insane deceit, a drunken writer’s stupid invention, a sentence written by a fool for a fool, for only a fool could get past it without questioning whether the author was actually presenting an especially broad parody of rotten writing.

Take this stupid sentence from page 3:

She came over near me and smiled with her mouth and she had sharp predatory teeth, as white as fresh orange pith and as shiny as porcelain.

May I ask the pedantic question first? Why does the comma between “mouth” and “and” have to go missing? Philip Marlowe should have spent the morning looking for it instead of driving to the creepy mansion in which the first chapter takes place. Removing commas is the hack’s solution to faking style. You want to be known for your literary flair? Just fuck with the punctuation.

Now for the truly egregious part of the sentence: Have any of you ever attempted to smile with your navel? Your knee? Your toenails or elbows? Humans invariably smile with their mouths. That’s part of the definition of what a smile is: to produce an expression of pleasure with the mouth. To write that this woman “smiled with her mouth” is so thunderingly redundant, so profoundly dumb, that by this point the reader has become certain that this novel is actually a full-fledged put on, the result of some sort of bet placed at Chasen’s or the Brown Derby that Chandler could write a novel of blatant inanity and nobody would notice.

I’ll acknowledge that “as white as fresh orange pith and as shiny as porcelain” isn’t bad, though this sort of showy concoction is exactly the kind of steely-sounding descriptions, the immense slag heap of metaphors, on which Chandler’s reputation rests. But he sure piles them on. And on and on and on: 

"Plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men.”

“A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock.”

“The General spoke again, slowly, using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work show-girl uses her last good pair of stockings.”

“The butler came along the red path with smooth light steps and his back as straight as an ironing board.”

They’re all terribly, terribly clever, these tough-sounding figures that Chandler has devised to prove that he’s writing real literature, not forgettable pulp entertainment. They preen.

But they’re as convincing as a muscle-bound short-stuff at Venice Beach showing off his six pack to some dame from Duluth, who’s too cornfed to know that the acne that arcs across his bullish back like the constellation Orion hurled willy-nilly with the Pleiades proves that his Herculean abs are cut from steroids and that below his Speedos is a tiny nothing resting on two undersized marbles, a set that might make her laugh if she wasn’t so damn horny and let down.

See? It’s easy.

The film, on the other hand...

There’s a funny story, quite possibly true, about Howard Hawks’s brilliant filming of The Big Sleep (1946): Humphrey Bogart, who played  Marlowe, couldn’t figure out who was supposed to have murdered one of the characters. Hawks confessed that he had no idea either, so they asked the question in a telegram to Chandler. Chandler’s inane reply: “I don’t know.”

This lack of resolution works spectacularly well in the film, which isn’t about Chandler’s investigation at all but rather a descent into meaninglessness, a voyage into nihilism; Hawks’s worldview is often frightening and dark, even in his comedies. I Was a Male War Bride (1949) - a comedy - is one of the most brutal films I’ve ever seen in any genre.

It doesn’t matter who killed whom in the movie; in fact, that’s pretty much Hawks's point. There’s a pervasive senselessness surrounding Bogie and his costar Lauren Bacall, and it’s exceptionally effective. It's genuine film noir, and it's stood the test of time.

The book, however, takes itself most seriously as a murder mystery, or a series-of-murders mystery. And the author still wasn't competent enough to know who one of the killers was. Hawks and his screenwriters (William Faulkner, Jules Furthman, and Leigh Brackett) were exploring a hostile cosmos. Despite his all-too-desperate literary pretensions, Chandler was stuck on the plane of pulp, and he couldn’t even pull that off.

The real mystery to me is why anybody reads this piece of crap at all.

Image of The Big Sleep
Manufacturer: Vintage Crime Lizard
Part Number:
Price:
Image of The Big Sleep
Director: Howard Hawks
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone
Rating: NR (Not Rated)

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Comments

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this August 2, 2012 - 8:35am

I don't think it's fair to judge a book based on only 10 pages. I've read it--twice--and seen the movie, though it's been a bit on both, but I'm going to give this a whirl anyway...

Your criticisms of Chandler's writing style strike me as nit-picks, more than any kind of real technical issue. Chandler's witticism and use of imagery, by my measure, were incredible. He also produced one my favorite lines ever (in Farwell, My Lovely): 

Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.

The Big Sleep is also his first book of eight (seven finished, one not finished), as well as screenplays and dozens of short stories. You make some grand statements about Chandler being a weak writer, but to do that, you need to provide some kind of context related to his body of work. 

I would argue that Chandler's body of work is strong, and while he may not be your cup of tea, he's certainly mine. He created one of the most seminal characters in fiction--Philip Marlowe, the world-weary white-knight with dingy armor, a trope revisited constantly--and explored moral gray areas with a grounding and sense of reality that many writers of crime fiction hadn't achieved. 

He's one of the few classic crime writers (among greats like Dashiel Hammett and James M. Cain) who transcended genre, and his work has been incredibly influential on detective fiction... I'd challenge you to find a single crime writer living today who hasn't read this, or another, Chandler book. Overrated? Not at all. 

You also call the movie brilliant, but my recollection is that the movie is incredibly faithful to the book--nearly beat for beat (it's been years since I've seen it, so I may be off, but still...) How can the movie then be brilliant but the book an overrated bore? 

And, yes, Chandler couldn't remember who killed Sternwood's driver. Which I think is funny--considering the density of Chandler's plotting, it's not entirely surprising that he would have forgotten about an insignificant character's demise. I find it to be charming, and if that brands me an apologist, so be it. His work is so good I'll forgive him the slight. 

I'd challenge you to finish the book before passing this kind of judgement. 

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts August 2, 2012 - 8:49am

So the whole idea behind this series is to get people to tell you guys to fuck off, right?

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch August 2, 2012 - 8:51am

I understand that the spirit of these articles, just like I understand they're also meant to incite page views/discussions(and it worked, because I clicked on it), but I really wished they were written with a less, well, trollish point of view. What's the point of even trying to start a discussion when the ending sentence of the article is "The real mystery to me is why anybody reads this piece of crap at all."

 

I'm not the biggest fan of the Big Sleep-book or movie(and Rob is right, the movie is almost a literal translation). For my money, The Long Goodbye is Chandler's best book, but to just ignore the effects Big Sleep had not only during it's time, but later on is just silly.

Also, come on- You're telling me that when people think of alcoholic writer, they think of Chandler over Hemingway or Fitzgerald?

 

So the whole idea behind this series is to get people to tell you guys to fuck off, right?

.

That and page views.

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade August 2, 2012 - 9:46am

Your Favorite Book Sucks Your Favorite Book Is Not My Cup Of Tea

The Big Sleep is not a favorite but I like Chandler's style (except punctuation laziness - not style, just a lazy writer making the reader finish the writing).

I take the examples cited as the character of Marlowe describing rain as hard and wet, and I take that it was "poetic license" and not journalistic description at work here - further, (THEME-TALK ALERT!) including no shining sun and normally nourishing rain as hard and wet sets up Marlowe's perception of the world as cruel and corrupt.

Also, smiling with your mouth implies smiling only with your mouth and without your eyes, in which case I think of predatory animals or chimpanzee grimaces expressing fear or aggression or both...

 

 

adam_bowman's picture
adam_bowman from England is reading Love in the Time of Cholera August 2, 2012 - 10:41am

I read The Big Sleep for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I thought it was great. Seriously, what's the point in this article other than to piss people off. When it essentially begins "I haven't even read a book that lots of people like, but now I'm gonna tell you why it's shit" it doesn't have any place on a site as good as this one.

And smiling with your mouth - I took it to mean that the smile was false, and if you got to page 11 that might make more sense

Masque's picture
Masque from UK is reading The Dark Tower August 2, 2012 - 11:32am

I must admit I wasn't a fan of the Big Sleep either. I didn't have too much of a problem with the writing (I don't remember being annoyed by it, anyway) but I lost track of half the characters and I thought it was tied up too conveniently and unbelievably at the end.

Crime novels aren't really my thing anyway.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like August 2, 2012 - 11:43am

I can't call anyone out for hating a book after a chapter or two because I've done it myself.

Additionally, there aren't really any arguements made in this article, but mere accusations (some of which were kind of funny.)

But, I'll reply that the (admittedly corny) similies are part of the character of the book and its protagonist.  If Chandler decided to write a dainty Austen-esque novel and used the same types of descriptors, it'd be ridiculous, but they work in the context; it's part of a (by-now) near-cliche aesthetic.  Compare it to something like the musical group Social Distortion: if you don't already like songs and stories about cars, booze, bad luck, smoke, and tattoos, there's a good chance you'll think they're pretty trite and nothing will likely convince you otherwise.  But I would not say you're wrong not to like them.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing August 2, 2012 - 2:43pm

To the first few responders:

Oh, get off your high dressage horses, people! Take a look at what this column is called. I’ll give you a minute, since some of you clearly need a little extra help with basic reading skills.

Okay, everyone with me now? As some of you have just discovered, the column is called “Your Favorite Book Sucks.” This suggests a snarky tone. Sarcasm. Name-calling. The literary equivalent of throwing a drink in someone’s face. And more than a touch of insulting comedy. The column is not called, “Pardon me, Mr. Chandler, sir, but I think your book could have been improved with a few minor edits, namely….” No, it’s called  “Your Favorite Book Sucks.” Hostility is the whole point. My editor asked me to spark outrage.

Did I succeed, Dennis?

Apparently so, because your responses are clinically Pavlovian. Bark! Bark!

I really must point to something so obvious, so in your face, that it embarrasses me to spell it out: nobody would have known that I’d read only the first 10 pages unless I had devoted the entire lede paragraph to the subject. I did it to get your goats. And your goats were got. Dr. Pavlov would be so proud.

A couple months ago I wrote a column in which I called out the straights of the world and informed them that the gay community had a canon of literature that, of course, most straights wouldn’t touch. The outrage was much the same: “How dare he question my liberalism even though I’ve never heard of any of these books?” Now it’s “How dare he tell me that a book I like sucks!”

Well, all you people out there in the dark: I dare. That’s why I’m a successful writer.


--Ed Sikov

Nathan's picture
Nathan from Louisiana (South of New Orleans) is reading Re-reading The Soul Consortium by Simon West-Bulford August 2, 2012 - 3:10pm

You like gay lit, do you? What are your thoughts on Giovanni's Room? Or is that one too obvious and deserve a drink thrown at it, too?

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing August 2, 2012 - 3:22pm

it's on my list.

--Ed

Nathan's picture
Nathan from Louisiana (South of New Orleans) is reading Re-reading The Soul Consortium by Simon West-Bulford August 2, 2012 - 3:26pm

Good stuff. I'll have to track down that column.

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch August 2, 2012 - 3:35pm

Generally, I have only one rule on the internet:

If someone signs their name to a post, ESPECIALLY when their user name is either their name or similar, chances are they're pretentious or just plain douchebags.

Good to see it hasn't steered me wrong yet.

Also, congrats to you, your editors, and I guess LitReactor on aspiring to write trollbait. Awesome stuff.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing August 2, 2012 - 3:46pm

Oh, that's brilliant! We should all hide behind pseudoymns so nobody can take responsibility for what he writes!

Ass.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing August 2, 2012 - 3:49pm

Perhaps you could comment on the content of the piece. I'm certain it would really add substance to this discussion.

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch August 2, 2012 - 3:57pm

Uh, people did comment on the piece, and you came here with your DON'T YOU GET IT MAN, IT'S SUPPOSE TO BE FUNNY. Oh, and I think you insulted people's reading skills along the way.

You can't really have your first response be that and then decry the lack of civil and though provoking discourse. Well, I mean, you can, but it just makes you look a little bipolar.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing August 2, 2012 - 4:40pm

No comment. I'm laughing too hard.

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch August 2, 2012 - 5:03pm

Good to see that unlike you, I can be entertaining then.

Dennis's picture
Admin
Dennis from Los Angeles is reading The Outsider by Stephen King August 2, 2012 - 6:11pm

Hi everyone,

To his credit, Ed just emailed me, wondering if he crossed a line, and Josh and I kindly told him to back off from this thread. To clarify, we never told him, nor any of our writers to write something to spark outrage, or to "trollbait."  In fact, here is a copy and paste of the exact email I sent our writing team about this last month:

At this point, our August slate is nearly full, but we have room for a few more column spots.  One feature we just launched this week is called 'Your Favorite Book Sucks.' It's aim is to take a sincere yet unpopular opinion about a well respected and praised book--  something that is considered a classic, that most people love... yet you don't.  Then make a compelling argument for why you think it's bad, overrated or just plain wrong.

So if you'd like to contribute and think you have a good book to feature, hit us up asap.    (and Reply All please)

Yes, the title of this column is loud.  I won't lie that it's purpose is to get eyes on it. But the actual content itself should sincerely try to win you over.  Perhaps we made a mistake with this particular column, as Ed had not fully read the book.  But his tone was so obviously snarky and ridiculous that we figured it wouldn't illicit this sort of reaction.  We figured people would just call him out on it and Ed would have to defend himself here.  

Anyway, look for this column to make its return in September, where hopefully we'll win a few of you back.

PandaMask's picture
PandaMask from Los Angeles is reading More Than Human August 2, 2012 - 7:45pm

I used to look forward to the articles on LitReactor. They would usually offer some good insight on certain subjects, or pretty reliable news. Now I find more pretentious articles like this one being written.

The Big Sleep was one of the first books that introduced me to noir fiction. It's nowhere near my favorite, and neither is Raymond Chandler as a mystery author. Dashiel Hammet holds that place for me. As an author I still think Chandler is good, even with that issue regarding continuity. The Big Sleep was a quick and easy read, the fact that the author of this article found it so hard to get through is odd.

Either way I think LR had good intentions with this article, but the overall execution was terrible.

People have their own opinions regarding what they like and don't like, it's a given, and they should be respected. What bothered me is the author lashing out at everyone who commented. It would have been better for him to have people take it as is. He knew people would lash out, even if he defended himself it would make no difference to anyone.

 

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts August 2, 2012 - 7:34pm

I'm not opposed to the nature of this column and at least found the ascerbity in this piece humorous, but I don't really have an appropriate comment other than the expected "oh just fuck off." Or, the only thing to actually counterpoint with would be "read the book." Good choice of a book to go after either way. We'll see what the next article has in store.

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade August 2, 2012 - 8:26pm

I like the pure devil's advocacy of the column, but never like the trollish tone of the responses. I wish more people were capable of attacking ideas, and less inclined to settle for attacking the individuals writing & posting...I just don't "outrage" that easily...

I want to read more of these columns, and I'd love if this:

'Your Favorite Book Sucks.' It's aim is to take a sincere yet unpopular opinion about a well respected and praised book--  something that is considered a classic, that most people love... yet you don't.  Then make a compelling argument for why you think it's bad, overrated or just plain wrong.

...was included as a prelude to each column.

 - Boone Spaulding Is Not A Douchebag

Dennis's picture
Admin
Dennis from Los Angeles is reading The Outsider by Stephen King August 2, 2012 - 8:38pm

I think that's actually a pretty good idea, Boone.

PandaMask's picture
PandaMask from Los Angeles is reading More Than Human August 2, 2012 - 8:41pm

Boone is a BAMF should be a column.

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade August 2, 2012 - 11:37pm

My favorite book, Catch-22, is ranked by this site http://www.ranker.com/crowdranked-list/the-most-overrated-books-of-all-time as the 17th most overrated book of all time.

Watch my cool turn to boil if and when some columnist choses Catch-22 as the subject...

Covino's picture
Covino August 3, 2012 - 12:01am

A most astute and insightful column, Ed, my compliments!  Far too many of the so-called "classics" become sacred cows immune to any salient criticism based upon nothing more than sheer over-rated puffery than true literary merit. 

I wondered whether you'd care to try the first ten pages of my new crime suspense thriller's first chapter(not the prologue)--SAN FRANCISCO'S FINEST: GUNNING FOR THE ZODIAC--which you can preview at "Look Inside" at Amazon.com?!  A good trashing, I don't mind, so long as my name's spelt correctly!! :)  Here's the link:

http://www.amazon.com/San-Franciscos-Finest-Gunning-Zodiac/dp/0943283337/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1343977001&sr=1-1&keywords=joseph+covino+jr

 

JonnyGibbings's picture
JonnyGibbings August 3, 2012 - 2:24am

I have no issue with  lyrical cognitive descriptors when making an emotional point, 'Hard wet rain' as, though literally wrong it serves to sum up the dread of cold, himself getting wet etc. I like that. For me, it lets me do the work. Its a bit like how German has single words that mean whole sentence. Such as Drachenfutter: A German word that is "dragons food" when translated literally, means the how a guy has to go and apologise and buy peace offerings because he has been a bit if a twat.

However I do like to make my own mind up on books. Especially classics. So many times I have read books that are supposed to be amazing but I just don't get. Hate to say it Boone but Catch 22 being my biggest classic not like. I've recently tried to read it for a 3rd time - can't get on with it. (For me, everyone talks the same. The same over the top. rapid ironic sarcasm. If one guy like it yeah, but everyone? The dialogue dies on that point for me cos there isn't a straight guy. Then another character will just appear, then go. Then another, then another. You don't get enough to know the character before they leave to never return)
Having similar issues with A confederacy of Dunces. It's ever so mildly amusing - like on a microscopic level. The main protagonist I hate. He has none of the vices I like and all of the ones I hate. A fat, obnoxious self superior prick. I struggle to read about someone I hate. A side character, the black dude 'Jones' I do want to read about. I cannot see how or why so many say it is comedy genius and laugh out loud funny. However, I'm not the kind of wanker to say everyone else's opinion is wrong.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life August 3, 2012 - 6:18am

Looks like I'm writing the next installment. I'm afraid.

Boone Spaulding's picture
Boone Spaulding from Coldwater, Michigan, U.S.A. is reading Solarcide Presents: Nova Parade August 3, 2012 - 8:26am

@ JG: Catch-22 and A Confederacy of Dunces? Two of my favorite books. But - I like the feedback. You're not alone. Many people don't like my favorites and it's interesting to know why they're not moved, just as it's worth knowing just why they move me.

Three of my favorite authors are David Foster Wallace, David Mamet, and Joseph Conrad. I've been hearing how they suck from unimpressed readers for years....

I wonder if Josh is going to disparage one of these books or one of these authors' books in the next column...

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts August 3, 2012 - 9:39am

A fat, obnoxious self superior prick.

This is why I can't read Confederacy, hits too close to home for me.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like August 3, 2012 - 10:05am

I agree that Confederacy is overrated. Those letters IJR writes were the only parts I found particularly funny, and not much else happens in the 100-or-so pages I read before moving on.

ElliottCox's picture
ElliottCox from North Carolina is reading Selby...I'm always reading Selby August 3, 2012 - 7:24pm

The solution is simple -- if the title of a column offends you, don't read the article.  If one person's opinion is different than yours, don't take it personally -- if you do, the fault lies with you, not with them.  Lighten up, Francis.

Troy Ollis's picture
Troy Ollis September 3, 2012 - 5:13am

I thinks it's funny that i love the book and believe it to be wonderfully written, yet the movie bored me. I'm a big advocator of B&W films still being immensly enjoyable and i love Humphrey Bogart, so i guess i was just missing the noir prose that Chandler wrote so well.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing September 26, 2012 - 10:29am

Okay, if anyone still gives a flying fuck enough read this after all this tiime, I've been lying low waiting to chill out a bit before attempting to have the last word(s):

First, I made it abundantly clear in the first paragraph that I couldn't read the book because it kept putting me to sleep. To "call me" on it is therefore impossible: I called myself on it. Had I hidden the fact that I couldn't finish the book, that would be something to call me on. I hardly hid it. I trumpetted it.

Last: calling me and my work "pretentious" always cracks me up. Where's the pretence? What am I pretending? I'm a reader and a writer; I am what I am and that's all what I am. You may disagree with me. I couldn't care less.

--Ed

J_B's picture
J_B March 23, 2014 - 8:59am

I'm probably way late on reading and responding to this, but I think this series is hilarious. Ed Sikov, I'm on your side and I'm glad you're not apologetic. I can't believe how personally people are taking this. Why get so angry over an opposing view point?

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing March 24, 2014 - 12:02pm

Thanks, J_B! I'm most grateful!

--Ed

SullyB74's picture
SullyB74 from Guam is reading An American Tragedy May 11, 2014 - 4:59am

I have never read The Big Sleep, but I do love The Long Goodbye. Have you read any other work by Mr. Chandler? Just curious.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing May 11, 2014 - 10:26am

No, I haven't. Should I, given my experience of THE BIG SLEEP?

--Ed

emily's picture
emily June 6, 2014 - 6:11pm

Thank you, Ed.  I just finished 27 pages of The Big Sleep, trying to be a good sport in response to the recommendation of the book by a friend with whose literary opinions I usually agree.  

I'm not masochistic enough to keep reading--the silimiles were making me nearly physically sick. I kept hearing "Aren't I just the cleverest writer you've ever encountered?" in that narrative voice of Marlowe's and wanting to say "hardly--in fact..." (well you get it.)  Then I discovered your comments in the "Sucks" section and instantly felt way less snobby--or, to be more precise, no longer defensive re my snobbiness, at least in my response to this idealized piece of mediocrity.  Brilliantly, you've done all the defending I needed.

I've just discovered this site.  I hope there are more of your reviews.

 

 

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing June 7, 2014 - 11:58am

Thanks so much! 

--Ed 

poptart's picture
poptart June 7, 2014 - 10:29pm

Ah, boo. The ending was weak. All that for "the crazy blond with the weird teeth did it." The esoteric cult angle was cute, but that's about it.

tkm256's picture
tkm256 January 10, 2017 - 6:15pm

When I read The Big Sleep, I didn't get the sense that Chandler was trying to "show off" with his writing style. Rather, he prioritized the hardboiled atmosphere above all else. I liked the feelings evoked by nonsensical similes like "the newly washed fingers of dead men." Hawkins did the same with the film, prioritizing the nihilistic darkness of the setting and the steamy chemistry of the stars over plot and cohesion. Enjoying either one requires reminding yourself not to think too hard.

There are several real flaws in The Big Sleep, but I wouldn't say the poetic language is one of them. It's not any worse than in other novels written before the computer age, when revision was a major undertaking and nearly all books were terrible first drafts. (Shh, don't tell my high school English teachers I said this, but Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and James Joyce are all impossible to read.) Chandler's characterization of women is hugely problematic--they're all histrionic sexpots who fly off the handle one second and throw themselves at the hero naked the next. The plot also has many loose ends, and the sheer number of people bursting into rooms with guns inadvertently turns some nail-biting scenes into farces.

However, I still think the book is worth finishing, if only because it's so culturally significant. If reading it is unpleasant, try listening to an audiobook in the car to work, so you won't think critically about every single word. Just let the waves of silly metaphors wash over you, and enjoy the ride.

edsikov's picture
edsikov from New York by way of Natrona Hts PA is reading absolutely nothing January 18, 2017 - 11:07am

A sensible approach, tkm256! This topic has received many, shall we say, hateful comments.

--Ed