Review: The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye is the Raymond Chandler novel that most people have heard of that isn’t The Big Sleep. After reading Sleep I was pretty sure that I’d like anything Chandler wrote, and Goodbye didn’t change that impression.

There are many similarities between the two.  Chandler’s voice is the same voice, and Marlowe’s the same character.  There’s a mystery and dames and lots of stylized tough guy talk.  The Los Angeles  setting conveys a sense of place to the point that LA is nearly a character.  In short, all Chandler’s strengths as a writer are here.

The differences are in tone and theme.  The Long Goodbye really couldn’t be titled anything else.  The pacing and tone make the reader feel the passage of time; the plot proceeds episodically over weeks, not the frantic rush of many mysteries.  The revelation is slow and lurching, as one finds out secrets about ones friends and relations in life.

The titular farewell also echoes through the text.  This is a book about absent friends, and not idealized ones.  The friend in question wasn’t Marlowe’s blood brother, nor did they see eye-to-eye. Their connection was made by chance, and develops awkwardly in fits. Yet friendship and decency impose obligations and attachments on men like Marlowe even when the relationship is rough hewn and haphazard.

The two themes play off one another as Marlowe discharges his debts and pays his respects in the fits and starts by which our lives all progress.  Chandler’s exploration of these uses a a clever traditional mystery plot in his unique style.  I never try to figure out whodunnit, but I was pleasantly surprised by the big reveal.  The trip is more interesting than the destination.

Strongly recommended.

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