"You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that, oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell."
Raymond Chandler is considered to be one of the founders of the "hard-boiled" genre, setting the stage for several generations of crime writers. This book was fun to read and knowing that it was one of the first of its kind, it's even more impressive. The novel has been adapted into film twice (1946, 1978) with the first staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall - so you know it was a pretty big deal. Bogart of course plays Philip Marlowe, one of the more memorable characters I've read in while. He lives in a corrupt world that driven him to become cynical; he's hard-drinking lady killer who also happens to be a private detective. Chandler himself admitted to the unbelievability of Marlowe's character when he wrote, “The private detective of fiction is a fantastic creation who acts and speaks like a real man. He can be completely realistic in every sense but one, that one sense being that in life as we know it such a man would not be a private detective.”
I do not think this unbelievability took away from the novel as whole. In fact, it is this lead character and the overall atmosphere of the novel that carries it. The atmosphere is gorgeous and descriptive and everything has that old Hollywood vibe. Although the novel takes place in LA, the setting is less concerned with the city as it is with its immediate surroundings; lavish mansions overlooking the Hollywood hills, clubs that look swanky by night and seedy by day, and of course Marlowe's own dingy office. Added bonus: I did not predict the ending before it was revealed, which made it even more fun.
I will say that I had to pay careful attention to the plot throughout, as it changes often, taking more turns than any other 250 page novel I've read. If I lost concentration for even a page I had to go back and reread it, because you better believe something happened to change the direction of the storyline. Aside from the somewhat confusing plot, I have no complaints. Among his other novels, Chandler wrote a total of seven Philip Marlowe titles. The Big Sleep was the first, and I definitely plan to read more.
Publisher: Vintage Crime, 1939