It’s been a long time since my last post. For a while my life just grabbed hold and required some extra attention, but then I got shanghaied by Raymond Chandler’s Long Goodbye, perhaps the longest goodbye of my life. This is not a particularly long book – 379 pages – but it’s taken me almost a month to read. I couldn’t abandon it, but I never felt like reading it. Before I write my review, I want to pose this question:
When is it time to just give up on a book?
How do you make the decision, or are you one of those people who must finish a book once it’s started?
Now, on to my review . . .
I found myself idly browsing my TBR shelf looking for something that caught my fancy. I came across The Long Goodbye, which has apparently been on this shelf for years. How do I know this? There was a bookmark from Latitude 33 Bookshop, an indie bookstore in Laguna Beach that, sadly, closed at least five years ago.
I may be one of the few avid readers in the US who has never read any Raymond Chandler, so I decided the time had come. There are such accolades at the beginning of the book:
The New Yorker : [Chandler] wrote as if pain hurt and life mattered.
LA Times: Philip Marlowe remains the quintessential urban private eye.
Literary Review: Raymond Chandler was one of the finest prose writers of the twentieth century. . . Age does not wither Chandler’s prose. . . He wrote like an angel.
With reviews like that, how could I go wrong? Well, I’m sorry to say for the most part, this book just didn’t work for me. I kept reading because I was hoping somewhere along the line it would click, but I couldn’t get beyond the 1950′s voice (Long Goodbye was first published in 1953) , which reminded me too much of Sargent Friday on “Dragnet”.
On helping a drunk outside a restaurant:
“You know him?” [Marlowe asks the valet]
“I heard the dame call him Terry. Otherwise I don’t know him from a cow’s caboose. But I only been here two weeks.”
From a cop whom Marlowe bested in an investigation:
“The hard boys will take care of you, buster. I won’t have to bother. You think you’re important enough to bother them? As a P.I. named Marlowe, check. You’re not. As a guy who was told to get off and blew a raspberry in their faces publicly in a newspaper, that’s different. That hurts their pride.”
So why did I have to keep going? I’m not opposed to giving up on a book that isn’t working for me, but every once in a while The Long Goodbye lapsed into real beauty, as when Marlowe stood by a window listening to the night sounds of Los Angeles:
Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for long completely silent. Twenty-four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness.
Take that, Dan Brown, and Lee Child, and Sue Grafton. That is real writing. It demands to be read. Even when you don’t particularly feel like reading it.