Following on from Charlotte, this week’s Recommended Read comes from Dave Cookson, our other Reader In Residence at Liverpool Hope University, who submits Farewell, My Lovely as evidence that Raymond Chandler is the real ‘literary king of American cool’.
“It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”
“She’s a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud and if she has washed her hair since Coolidge’s second term, I’ll eat my spare tyre, rim and all.”
When trying to recommend Chandler it feels like your own words will never do him justice, you have no choice but to quote some of the slick, sublime descriptions. Evidently as a female character in the world of private detective Philip Marlowe you can go one of two ways, but women often end up being the key to the story – not in the typical damsel in distress way, more the conniving vixen out to destroy everyone around her.
I was drawn to this as the second Marlowe novel, and I had read the supremely cool The Big Sleep at A-Level, where I have to say, my teacher read it brilliantly. I was engrossed by the seedy, dark, corrupt, mysterious worlds Marlowe operated in, and the ending was captivating to the point that despite being regarded as a classic, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall could not do it justice in the film adaptation.
I’d argue Marlowe is the greatest literary detective, and yes, I’m including Sherlock Holmes in that one. Marlowe operates as a lone wolf, is a womaniser and in Farewell, My Lovely he takes on jobs for the sheer thrill of the ride.
The story of Farewell, My Lovely is thrown at the reader from the start; Marlowe observes Moose Malloy, a physically intriguing character, he has – oh what’s the point? I’ll quote Chandler again:
“He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck…Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a piece of angel food.”
Malloy is out of prison after a stitch-up and is on the lookout for Velma, his former fiancée. Marlowe tries to find Velma, and uncover the framing of Malloy, but to say he gets more than he bargained for doesn’t really cut it. Marlowe witnesses robberies, murders and is on the receiving end of some tough treatment himself.
Marlowe as a detective is completely relentless, and there is a perpetual sense of peril that his intrigue will be his downfall, and that’s what makes this so exciting. There are so many threads of the plot, and you know that they will come together at the end, but the endless contemplation of how that will happen is a real treat.
If you’re a fan of The Great Gatsby read Farewell, My Lovely or The Big Sleep. In my opinion you will soon realise that when it comes down to it, the supposed literary king of American cool does not hold up to the descriptive delights of Raymond Chandler.
Oh, go on then, have another quote:
“You can crab over the morning paper and kick the shins of the guy in the next seat at the movies and feel mean and discouraged and sneer at politicians, but there are a lot of nice people just the same. Take the guy that left that half bottle of whisky there. He had a heart as big as one of Mae West’s hips.”
Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler, Penguin (1940/2005)