BkFt: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

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The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep was published in 1939 and is the first novel in a crime series featuring detective Philip Marlowe.  Raymond Chandler needs no introduction really.  We know him as having a huge impact on the crime fiction genre and his Philip Marlowe novels are popular still.  The title, The Big Sleep, is a euphemism for death – an apt title for a crime novel I think.  According to wikipedia a lot of Chandler’s novels were created by cannibalising from his short stories.  The Big Sleep‘s core apparently comes from two short stories entitledThe Big Sleep (Philip Marlowe, #1)Killer in the rain (1935) and The Curtain (1936).   This copy pasting of the short stories to create The Big Sleep led to the famous confusion over who killed the chauffeur when the 1946 film was being made.  When asked for clarification of this confusion Chandler said he didn’t know who had killed the chauffeur.  Chandler cared much more about the characters and the descriptions in his novels than the plot.  That isn’t to say that his plots weren’t good or complicated but rather that he wasn’t concerned with tying up every tiny little detail in the end.  The other elements of his novel were of great importance too which in today’s crime genre may be slightly sacrificed.  Chandler was known for his attention to detail and this is what makes him great.  In Sean Clark’s review of The Big Sleep he says:

“This book is short and awesome. If you like mysteries and crime fiction at all–even if all you’ve read is Steig Larsson–and you haven’t already read The Big Sleep, go for it”

Grossman of the TIME summarises all too well what the novel is about and the feel of it:

“I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be.” This sentence, from the first paragraph of The Big Sleep, marks the last time you can be fully confident that you know what’s going on. The first novel by Raymond Chandler, who at the time was a 51-year-old former oil company executive, is a mosaic of shadows, a dark tracery of forking paths. Along them wanders Philip Marlowe, a cynical, perfectly hard-boiled private investigator hired by an old millionaire to find the husband of his beautiful, bitchy wildcat daughter. Marlowe is tough and determined, and he does his best to be a good guy, but there are no true heroes in Chandler’s sun-baked, godforsaken Los Angeles, and every plot turn reveals how truly twisted the human heart is.”

What else is there to say about this famous novel? I’m sure a lot of people have read it.  What did you think of it?

All TIME 100 Novels – The Big Sleep


One thought on “BkFt: The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

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  1. Well…I liked it but didn’t love it as much as I expected. There are a lot of outdated attitudes – homophobia, misogyny etc – and though I made allowances for the time of writing, they still jarred me a bit. Also the plot is confused. On the other hand, he was great at building an atmosphere and creating a setting. The real interest in it for me was seeing how influential it was not just on later writers but also on the whole noir film scene. It was impossible to read it without thinking of Bogey and Bacall.


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