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The Idle Book Club 25: The Long Goodbye

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Really interesting episode!


I have read all of the Philip Marlowe novels except for Playback, and The Long Goodbye is definitely my favorite. It is also the darkest and most melancholy of Raymond Chandler novels, very likely because of the situation he was in at the time: his wife was terminally ill and he himself was devastated and suicidal. 


Before reading any of the Raymond Chandler books, I assumed that Philip Marlowe would be the sort of hardboiled detective who got all the women, had the best wisecracks, and was incredibly competent at what he does. Chandler may maintain that impression for a couple of pages, but it quickly becomes apparent that, at best, the women may show interest in him in order to use him, that his wisecracks amuse nobody and regularly lead to him getting his ass kicked, and that even if he is not cracking wise, he is often so incompetent in basic sleuthing that he gets his ass kicked regardless. This, combined with the occasional glimpses into his revulsion about how the world and he himself operates, makes Marlowe a really fascinating character to me.


I find Chandler's writing style pretty incredible. It is hard to find a paragraph in his books that doesn't have dry, humorous sentence I would be so happy to have come up with, stuff like "She had wide blue eyes and eyelashes that didn't quite reach her chin," or "His suit fitted him like a stable fits a horse." As the novels are written in first person, you almost get the impression that Marlowe has gone through the events over and over again in his head and created the most wise-ass version of the narrative just to amuse himself. He seems like that sort of a guy. Chandler's writing is also very efficient in many ways. A good example of that is Marlowe's interest in chess problems, which is mentioned briefly in several several of the books. It is such a small thing, but as mentioned in the podcast, it tells a lot about the character.


The discussion about the effect of World War II on the characters was really good. It would be interesting to go back and read The Big Sleep, which was published in 1939, to see if makes any references to the current world events. I also find it so hard to reconcile that Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie were contemporaries (with Christie's being active both before and after Chandler's career). The world of Christie's novels, with perhaps few exceptions, feels so distant to me, while Chandler's feels merely like a slightly outdated version of the world we live in.


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I've been slowly making my way through Chandler's works for the last few years now, and as I've yet to make it to this book I haven't listened to the podcast yet. That being the case, I don't have a ton to add, except....


My favorite thing about reading Chandler has been that as soon as I opened The Big Sleep, I was immediately familiar with his prose thanks to Bill Watterson and Calvin's Tracer Bullet character.

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