"I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun." - Praising Raymond Chandler
23 July 1888, the American author Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago, Illinois.
“When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very 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 remorse 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. It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn't have one. I didn't care. I finished the drink and went to bed." (Raymond Chandler, “The Long Goodbye”)
|A caricature of Raymond Chandler by Adam Hughes, found on:|
When “The Long Goodbye” was published in 1953, Chandler had already passed his peak as an author. His beloved wife Cissy, 18 years his senior, died a year later and he began his scheduled routine of drinking himself to death, trying to shoot a bullet in his head under the shower, failed, staggered to London for a spell, back to California and England again until his body gave up for good and he died in La Jolla at the age of 70. His last two attempts to write a novel, “Playback” and “Poodle Springs” remained thankfully unfinished. But by then he had already altered the hardboiled course adopted by American crime fiction after Dashiell Hammett into a melancholic, gritty and witty swan song of society with a Lone Ranger-type protagonist of earlier popular novels adapted to mid-20th century urban life as his solitary hero. A character whom Hammett’s Sam Spade would have regarded as a goon. But a spirited one with a quixotic code of honour who plays chess and listens to Classical music. Philip Marlowe.
Chandler’s slurs on absolutely every group of people already a victim of discrimination in the US of the 1940s and 50s as voiced by Marlowe appear as outdated as a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere in the age of fuel efficiency. The rest of Marlowe’s urban Californian environment is a swamp of corruption, lies and murder anyway. His plots are incoherent as a rule on top of it. But few writers were able to tell a tale with a concise, believably sketchy and nonetheless lyrical language like Raymond Chandler did, believable with a wealth of detail and psychological consequence, adding a poetic note to the hardboiled novel that actually ought not to be there. Together with a devastating wit, Chandler’s texts, his short stories, novels and letters, stand out as popular fiction that legitimately claims a place in high literature, making their author on of the great American novelists of the 20th century.
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