The Big Sleep [1939]

I thought I’d have trouble when reading this of keeping the film out of my
mind, and I did. The first part of the book plays out exactly as the film
does, but at somewhere near the 2/3 mark, the two start to diverge around
the issue of the femme fatale. In the film, the investigation is a foil
between Philip and Vivian – solving the puzzle takes a back seat to the
smoulder of their on-screen chemistry. I think there’s probably an
interesting feminist angle somewhere in there, because Vivian in the movie
is a lot more powerful than in the book: she’s a player, albeit one being
played also. I also had some trouble keeping Ellroy’s somewhat grimier LA
offerings out of mind. On then, to the book itself.

I found it a very easy read – I finished it in one solid evening of effort
and the following morning before work. The writing was not beautiful, but it
did have some interesting flourishes. I didn’t get the sense of place that I
was expecting based on ‘s comments about his writing the
other week, but there is a keen observational eye at work throughout, so I
feel like I got a good sense of person. The characters were fairly vivid
sketches, and very economically done.

The plot of the book made perfect sense to me, not something I think could
strictly be said of the film. I now feel confident that I know who killed
who, and more or less why! Something I’d not really been too clear on in the
movie – but then, it didn’t seem all that important. Again, I found it hard
to keep Ellroy out of mind here – the shear difference in the scope and
detail of the story is staggering. To summarize the whys and hows of the
Big Sleep
would take a few minutes, and really follows only two or three
main strands; to summarize White Jazz would take a lot more – though
I suppose really a lot of that is context rather than core information.

All in all, a fairly good use of my time, I thought.

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2 Responses to The Big Sleep [1939]

  1. debzter says:

    I like The Big Sleep but I’d wouldn’t have said it was one of the Marlowe tales I had in mind when talking about the way Chandler evokes setting. Long Goodbye, Playback and Farewell My Lovely, strike me far more as descriptive. Big Sleep is pretty plotty from my hazy memory? I likewise have problems keeping the Bogart film and the book separate in my mind even though they had completely different endings, didn’t they?

    • mashugenah says:

      It’s fairly plotty, yes. But that’s not too unexpected.

      The movie stops a bit before the book does, and inserts Vivian into the finale.

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