Re: RARA-AVIS: The Chandler / Hammett Ellroy-inspired debate

From: James Michael Rogers (
Date: 19 Jun 2010

  • Next message: James Michael Rogers: "Re: RARA-AVIS: The Chandler / Hammett Ellroy-inspired debate"

    The Long Goodbye is for sure Chandler's most ambitious work but I vastly prefer Farewell, My Lovely. I think you can really feel the guy coming into his own in the earlier novel. It has the same sensitivity - one is tempted to call it tenderness - that shows in TLG but it also has that joie de vivre that one feels in almost all of his early stories. The wisecracks and descriptions are unforced (don't you find that Long Goodbye is sometimes stiff?) and some of the scenes are just unapproachably vivid. Marlowe's meeting with Moose Malloy just stays with you forever, for instance. That particular scene is as good as anything in Hammett's best. TLG was, as you accurately point, out not written at a happy point in Chandler's life and I think you can feel that in some of the writing which occasionaly strikes me as labored. I also think you can feel Chandler is getting a bit bored with the P.I. format (perhaps that last is obvious, given that in the later book he is trying so hard to move beyond the mystery).

    I have always felt that The Little Sister is shamefully underrated, by Chandler and by others. In my opinion it is one of his darkest and most cynical stories. I like it a good deal better than The High Window, which seemed a bit "phoned in". The titilular character is certainly one of Chandler's best villains ever. It also has my favorite wisecrack ever.....the one where the Sister says that her brother thinks people should see thmseves as they really are and Marlowe replies "Let's hope it never happens to him."

    As an addendum on Chandler's admiration for Hemingway, I note that Chandler was not above mocking the maestro himself. He allowed himself a devastating parody of "the best damn writer in the whole damn world" which was published in _The Notebooks Of Raymond Chandler_.


      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Patrick Kennedy
      Sent: Saturday, June 19, 2010 12:42
      Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: The Chandler / Hammett Ellroy-inspired debate

      Chandler himself considered "The Long Goodbye" his best work, "The Little Sister" being the one he liked least. I think "The Long Goodbye" is a pretty much miraculous achievement, particularly given his personal circumstances while he was writing it, but I'd quibble with him about "The Little Sister's" standing. I found it a somewhat guilty pleasure, both Chandler and Marlowe having terrific fun in a book that reads almost like a spoof on the genre as handled by Spillane. Marlowe has a ridiculous degree of success with women in this one, but not quite so utterly ridiculous as in "Playback" which I also enjoyed, but for me wins hands down in any contest to find his weakest work.
      I think amongst his short stories, only one of which, "The Pencil", features Marlowe, the rest having the Marlowe prototype's character name altered in later publications as a cashing in device, my favourite is the atypical burlesque on the genre, "Pearls are a Nuisance", again with Chandler having terrific fun with the writing.
      Fun with the writing is actually an important aspect of his style; Chandler, when he still had the energy and mental resources to indulge it, loved the actual writing process and the writing as writing. Actually, thinking about that, maybe the aspects I enjoy about Chandler are the very things which Ellroy and others have come to dislike: the metaphors, similes, bon mots and wisecracks; the marshalling of language to create character and atmosphere, and sometimes even for language's sake alone.
      Incidentally, Chandler would brook no criticism of Hammett by others, or of Hemingway either, even though he did have the temerity to have Marlowe nickname one hood Hemingway due to his habit of repeating himself over and over in the hope of convincing others that what he was saying was good. He ceded everything to Hammett as a benign and improving influence on the genre they both wrote in, although on the one occasion on which they met he seems to have been too reticent to express his admiration, or indeed to discuss the many things they both had in common.


      From: jacquesdebierue <>
      Sent: Sat, 19 June, 2010 17:30:41
      Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: Gores's Spade and Archer


      --- In, Patrick Kennedy <pbjk2004@...> wrote:
    > Was anyone else here rendered less than gruntled by Ellroy's review of "Spade and Archer" during which he gratuitously seizes, or creates, an opportunity to take a sideswipe at Chandler? Chandler, apparently, is a 'florid gasbag' who is 'easy to imitate'. Oh really? Then how come Robert B Parker failed so badly at it, and even Chandler himself couldn't quite manage it towards the very end of his career?
    > There seems to be quite a bit of resentment around amongst certain crime writers towards Chandler: a begrudging of his place in crime writing history and the critical literary acclaim which came his way, and still does, while it frequently eludes - most unjustifiably, to my mind - most practitioners of the genre.
    > I think what Chandler possessed more than any other quality in the best of his writing was poetry, heart and personality. Maybe Ellroy doesn't think you need these qualities much if you're a crime writer, but I'm damned glad Chandler had them, and in such gifted and entertaining abundance.

      Also, the best Chandler, at least in my opinion, is to be found in the couple dozen short stories that he published. In those, Marlowe is not such a wisecracker, the action moves very rapidly (often suddenly), and the writing owes a lot to Hammett. If you have read one of those mammoth anthologies of pulp stories you know that when you come to a Chandler story it is usuallly head and shoulders above everything that precedes it and follows it - unless there are also Hammett stories, that is!

      The reason why imitating Hammett is not aproblem is that, de facto, Hammett's writing style became simply the model of good writing for 20th century American writers. As such, it is now unremarkable. You can tell that somebody writes very well but you don't necessarily go and say "Oh, I hear Hammett".

      I was thinking about this while reading or rereading several novels during the past month, fine works that have little in common thematically... but all feature the extremely clear and focused writing that was so characteristic of Hammett... books like Connelly's _The Scarecrow_ , Bill Crider's _Booked for a Hanging_, Jack O'Connell's _The Resurrectionist_, as well as the Gores novel we're discussing.



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