Lyceum — The Big Sleep

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. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark little clocks on them. 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. I was calling on four million dollars.

– Philip Marlowe

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler is noir at it’s finest. It’s the first book (out of seven) with Chandler’s protagonist Philip Marlowe, a gentleman sleuth with a code of honor. It oozes with style, finesse, and sophistication. I didn’t like the plot and mostly used it as reading exercise.

Philip Marlowe a cynical and tough detective is contacted by the old and ailing General Sternwood to help him “take care of” someone who’s been blackmailing him. The plot thickens with murder, conspiracy, and cover-ups as Marlowe tries to untangle this web of deception.

Raymond Chandler like Tolkien was a pioneer, even definer of his genre. His works, writing style, and plots have become synonymous with the genre itself. Maybe that’s why I did not have a great time reading the book.

Unlike Tolkien’s fantasy, I’ve listened to, read or seen hundreds, maybe even thousands of noir and detective stories. I’ve gotten used to, even bored by the interchangeable plot. The plot twists are predictable and not exciting, the revelations expected and not exhilarating and the style and poise stereotypical cliche.

I think it’s my own fault that I did not like this book. I’ve gotten too tired of these stories to properly enjoy them. Chandler’s influence over noir is evident from the previous statement. His work was so essential in the construction and shaping of the genre that everyone who followed fundamentally inherited his style and integrated it into their own, which makes it harder for newer readers to appreciate his work. The writing style is dense with metaphors and the lexicon enormous. I’ve been trying hard to understand the symbology that authors employ and hide under the guise of sentences and that was one of the reasons I did not drop the book. After the first 30%, I simply read it as an exercise in understanding and interpreting the text fully.