Friday, 13 September 2013

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

published 1939 chapter 11







[Vivian Regan] wore brownish speckled tweeds, a mannish shirt and tie, hand-carved walking shoes. Her stockings were just as sheer as the day before, but she wasn't showing as much of her legs. Her black hair was glossy under a brown Robin Hood hat that might have cost fifty dollars and looked as if you could have made it with one hand out of a desk blotter.

"Well, you do get up," she said, wrinkling her nose at the faded red settee, the two odd semi-easy chairs, the net curtains that needed laundering and the boy's size library table with the venerable magazines on it to give the place a professional touch. "I was beginning to think perhaps you worked in bed, like Marcel Proust."

"Who's he?" I put a cigarette in my mouth and stared at her. She looked a little pale and strained, but she looked like a girl who could function under a strain. "A French writer, a connoisseur in degenerates. You wouldn't know him."

"Tut, tut," I said. "Come into my boudoir."




observations: Perhaps surprisingly, Raymond Chandler is big on description – rooms, clothes, the state of characters' souls. (Philip Marlowe is undertaking this investigation wearing a powder-blue suit and smoking a pipe, details which we kind of wish we didn’t know.) The ‘hand-carved’ shoes are a nice touch. And the hat – picture, description – is rather wonderful.

As here, the furniture usually gets a mention, and Chandler’s characters often arrange themselves on davenports – an item that you sit on. In the UK, a davenport is a small writing desk, rather than a sofa, and Evelyn Waugh took it upon himself at one point to write to Erle Stanley Gardner, another crime writer operating in the USA, to tell him that his usage was incorrect.

In fact, both usages are fine. The US version comes from the makers of the original sofa – the term became generic, as Hoover did for carpet cleaners in the UK. Meanwhile in the UK, supposedly the first davenport desk was made for a Captain Davenport. (This has been worrying me since I first came across the references in the 1970s – James Thurber in another book seems to think it odd to use the word sofa rather than davenport - so despite not being clothes, it felt important to sort it out, and am happy to have done so.)

This is the book, not the 1946 film, and Vivian isn’t Lauren Bacall, and the plot is not exactly the same – it’s all a bit harsher.

More about the book, and Vivian’s naughty sister Carmen, in this entry, with a very memorable picture. Humphrey Bogart played Philip Marlowe in that film, and he also played another PI, Sam Spade, in The Maltese Falcon – find out what Sam wore under his suit here. It’s probably not what you’re thinking.

The picture is a McCall’s magazine cover, courtesy of one of our favourite resources, George Eastman House.


8 comments:

  1. Moira - This is a harsh, rather dark book in a lot of ways isn't it? I think it's partly because Chandler was willing to really probe the darker side of life in a way that some GA writers weren't. And thanks for sharing the magazine cover - so reflective of that era.

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    1. Yes, it really was the Mean Streets wasn't it? A very good and very thoughtful writer, and from a different kind of Golden Age. I think I'm right in saying Chandler was quite rude about Christie - whereas with the benefit of looking back we can see there was more than enough room for both.

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  2. It's years since I read this, but I remember being slightly offended by the pipe and the powder blue suit. Just not the right image at all.

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    1. As you say, it's just not quite right. Strangely, I think men's fashions date worse than women's in terms of descriptions in books - don't know why that is...

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  3. I am planning to read The Big Sleep this year, because I hope to do a Book to Movie post on that book. And because it is a vintage mystery and I am sure I read some of Chandler's books years ago, but have no memory of which ones.

    I am looking forward to reading the book, having viewed the movie many times. Thanks for this peek at it.

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    1. It is a very enjoyable book, Tracy, I think you'll like it - he has a very distinctive style. I look forward to reading your post on the Book to Movie, sounds great.

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  4. Moira, I'm back!
    2014 New Year Reading Resolution Number 312 - read some Chandler and Hammett!

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    1. Definitely a point of overlap I think; I very much like both, and they might be nearly hard-boiled enough for you...

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