Blowhard, Esq. writes:
English novelist John Banville writes in The Guardian about how he’s been commissioned by Raymond Chandler’s estate to write a new Philip Marlowe novel. Banville — called “the heir to Proust, via Nabokov,” a Nobel Prize contender, winner of the Booker and Franz Kafka Prize — writes:
Marlowe is one of the immortals, up there with Don Quixote, Emma Bovary and Leopold Bloom…
Is Banville correct? Does Marlowe compare to three of the undisputed immortals of world lit? I’m not qualified to say. It’s telling, though, that a man of his standing can make that comparison in one of London’s major newspapers and not be laughed out of polite society. It’s taken for granted now that, yes, of course, Chandler is one of the greatest American writers of all time.
When The Big Sleep was first published in 1939, how many critics had any inkling that a writer of pulp mysteries would one day occupy the same plane as Cervantes, Flaubert, and Joyce? Chandler’s skyrocketing rep over the decades is Exhibit A that critics, profs, and other hoity-toity intellectuals frequently have zero idea where lasting and influential art will come from.
- Back here I shared some thoughts on the novel and movie versions of The Long Goodbye.
When American pulp writer Jim Thompson was alive, he didn’t get nearly the amount of recognition he got after his death, esp. after the French got hold of ‘Pop. 1280’ and made it into a movie, ‘Coup de Torchon’, in 1981; then interest in Thompson revived, and several of his novels were republished through that decade…
I wonder how many current novelists, toiling away in relative obscurity, will be rediscovered years after their deaths, and suddenly become much more well known…
Hey, it could happen! 🙂
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I believe it was author Barry Gifford who was instrumental in reviving Thompson’s reputation in America via the Black Lizard imprint.
“Chandler’s skyrocketing rep over the decades is Exhibit A that critics, profs, and other hoity-toity intellectuals frequently have zero idea where lasting and influential art will come from.”
True, but they also frequently do. Also, I wonder how much the film adaptations of Chandler’s books, particularly The Big Sleep with Bogart’s singular turn as Marlowe, have helped boost his reputation as a writer. The movies have certainly helped place Marlowe firmly in the collective consciousness, maybe even solely so. Of Chandler’s books, I’ve only read The Big Sleep, and I enjoyed the movie far more than the book. That said, Chandler’s style and plot devices have had a huge impact on American culture.
The movies made from Chandler’s books fall so short of the originals that it would be fairer to say that they have harmed his reputation more than made it. His greatness comes from a style that engages the mind and catches the heart, and holds the attention with the pretense of a plot. He makes you believe you’ve entered a world of constant movement, bounded by senseless death, where deep calls to deep in tawdry situations, and hope survives by grasping for ever more distant metaphors. We can measure his stature by the superiority of his books to even those of Dashiell Hammett, and of course all subsequent imitators. Chandler survived the thousands of would be parodies of his style and mileiu that erupted through the 60s through 80s. He never became camp or expired from overexposure. That’s a classic.
Your evocative description makes me want to give Chandler another go. I’m sure I missed some things when I read him in my early 20s.