short, belated thoughts on Farewell, My Lovely.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mixed. This is a much earlier book than my favorite Chandler, The Long Goodbye. I know that one inside and out, but this was my first read for Farewell, My Lovely. Marlowe is a less developed character here: not so comfortable with his own skin and motives. In later books, Chandler invests Marlowe with an uncanny ability to reassess a situation on a dime: he always understands who has the power in any given moment, who is responsible and who must be protected, even when those variables shift quickly. That weary certainty of the right thing is missing here, and the younger, jumpier Marlowe is interesting.

Two things stand out. The racist language, particularly in the early third of the book, is so prevalent that I have to call it triggering. I think he employs every ugly euphemism I’ve ever heard, and some I haven’t. Second – and really interesting to me – is the overarching theme of pain, both physical and emotional, sought and uninvited. Marlowe gets the shit knocked out of him for pretty much every second of the plot. Chandler’s descriptions of physical pain are profoundly authentic, and made my bones hurt. The book opens with Marlowe involving himself in a situation where he knows he’ll be hurt (which is kind of his thing, but his approach here is more wryly self-abusive than it is in later books), and the theme holds for each character in their own way.

“And once again the ports of the good ship Montecito grew out of the black Pacific and the slow steady sweep of the searchlight turned around it like the beam of a lighthouse.

‘I’m scared,’ I said suddenly. ‘I’m scared stiff.’

Red throttled down the boat and let it slide up and down the swell as though the water moved underneath and the boat stayed in the same place. He turned his face and stared at me.

‘I’m afraid of death and despair,’ I said. ‘Of dark water and drowned men’s faces and skulls with empty eyesockets. I’m afraid of dying, of being nothing…'” (p. 251)

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