I’ve made a discovery! I’ve found him!
He is sarcastic, ironic, doesn’t give a damn, he is loyal, he doesn’t want to be a hero and he isn’t, he has principles, and he sometimes even sticks to them!
Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No it is this guy:
Just listen to him describe himself: “I belonged in Idle Valley like a pearl onion on a banana split.”
I didn’t start with the first book in the series (The Big Sleep) but with The Long Goodbye, and I listened to it as an audio book performed by Ray Porter, and OhMyGod his performance was perfect! I think that was what pushed me to give this book 5 stars, although the plot didn’t deserve it really.
The main attraction of this book are:
The characters! You sense who they are. The author doesn’t just tell you what they’re like. He doesn’t wax poetically about their morals and opinions and faults. The characters are deeply human. And what is interesting is Raymond’s treatment of them. He lashes at them, he puts them in uncomfortable moments, he reveals what lies under their skin by removing the skin, by exposing their nerve endings. We sometimes catch ourselves feeling sorry for some of the characters, but Raymond quickly reveals our naiveté and shows us what lies beneath the veneer of beauty and suffering. His characters are all villains, and they are all antiheroes.
Next is the atmosphere. Raymond gives us a quintessential America of this time as we have imagined it with the help of the great Hollywood movies. He give us cigarettes and darkened bars, he gives us private detectives in trench coats and impossibly beautiful femme fatales , he gives us crime and sex. He gives us everything and more.
And last, and best of all he gives us words! Oh My God, the statements in this book. The easiest thing would be to simply quote the entire book, but I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll just leave some of them here.
“There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”
“I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between stars.”
“The girl gave him a look which ought to have stuck at least four inches out of his back.”
“the bartender, [who] was polishing a glass and listening with that plastic smile people wear when they are trying not to scream.”
“I went out the kitchen to make coffee – yards of coffee. Rich, strong, bitter, boiling hot, ruthless, depraved. The life blood of tired men.”
“We’re a big rough rich wild people and crime is the price we pay for it, and organized crime is the price we pay for organization.”
“I like bars just after they open for the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth. I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation. I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on a crisp mat and put the little folded napkin beside it. I like to taste it slowly. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that’s wonderful.”
“Time makes everything mean and shabby and wrinkled. The tragedy of life, Howard, is not that the beautiful things die young, but that they grow old and mean.”
“Most people go through life using up half their energy trying to protect a dignity they never had.”
And possibly the most important quote of the entire book and definitely the most applicable today:
“Man has always been a venal animal. The growth of populations, the huge costs of war, the incessant pressure of confiscatory taxation – all these things make him more and more venal. The average man is tired and scared, and a tired, scared man can’t afford ideals. He has to buy food for his family. In our time we have seen a shocking decline in both public and private morals. You can’t expect quality from people whose lives are a subjection to a lack of quality. You can’t have quality with mass production. You don’t want it because it lasts too long. So you substitute styling, which is a commercial swindle intended to produce artificial obsolescence. Mass production couldn’t sell its goods next year unless it made what is sold this year look unfashionable a year from now. We have the whitest kitchens and the most shining bathrooms in the world. But in the lovely white kitchen the average [person] can’t produce a meal fit to eat, and the lovely shining bathroom is mostly a receptacle for deodorants, laxatives, sleeping pills, and the products of that confidence racket called the cosmetic industry. We make the finest packages in the world, Mr Marlowe. The stuff inside is mostly junk.”