Sunday, December 23, 2012

Book Review: Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye (1953)

In a 1945 letter, Raymond Chandler wrote that “it doesn’t matter a damn what a novel is about, that the only fiction of any moment in any age is that which does magic with words.” In 1947, he wrote that he was “fundamentally rather uninterested in plot” and that “the most durable thing in writing is style.” In 1953, Chandler showed that he meant it when he published The Long Goodbye, which was 47% longer than his previous Philip Marlowe novel, 1949’s The Little Sister. This extra 47% is almost all style—or, if you prefer, padding. If you agree with Chandler that “it doesn’t matter a damn what a novel is about,” then you will likely think that The Long Goodbye is his masterpiece. If you disagree, then you will likely find the book self-indulgent. I tend toward the latter camp. Marlowe is still Marlowe, but all the extra style gives him the chance for even more self-righteous speechifying than usual, rather as if he is pointing the way for John D. MacDonald to invent Travis McGee. In sum, I can read any page in The Long Goodbye with great pleasure, but there’s just too damn many of them. Grade: B 

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