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The Big Sleep

Page history last edited by Jon 13 years, 3 months ago

Chandler, Raymond - The Big Sleep (1939)


By 1939 Chandler's pieces were getting progressively longer and more complex; finally he joined together several of his stories to form his first novel, The Big Sleep. Parts of this book are very well written, including the opening visit to a millionaire's greenhouse, and the aftermath of the first murder at a hill side house. But the book fails to cohere as a whole, and shares much of the overall weaknesses of his recent short stories.


The best part of The Big Sleep is the ending. This apostrophe to death is magnificently written, and recalls such Elizabethan essays on the same subject as the finale of Sir Walter Raleigh's The History of the World (1610). Chandler's skill with words reached new heights here, a skill that carried over into his next novel, Farewell, My Lovely (1940).


Mike Grost.


Very over-rated.  The plot lacks focus—some of the scenes (notably the gambling scene in Ch. 22, and the scene in the next chapter between Marlowe and Vivian) are excellent, but the story seems to be a loosely-woven series of set-pieces rather than a coherent narrative, probably because Chandler reworked several of his short stories.  There are too many loose ends, most famously who killed the chauffeur.  The plot is really ‘wasps in a jar’.

Is Chandler’s style any good?  (Heresy!)  Over-descriptive and staccato short sentences, as in late Bailey or Hemingway, make for uphill reading (e.g., description of Vivian on p. 22), slow everything down, and get in the way of the story.


Nick Fuller



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