I’ve always found Raymond Chandler’s writing to be inspirational, sublime, and maddening. I have no idea how many times I’ve read Farewell, My Lovely, and there’s still a lot about it I just don’t get. The work is an adventure tale, a work of art, and a puzzle. Chandler broke a lot of rules. But I, and countless other fans, keep coming back.
This retrospective on Chandler’s unique approach in Literary Hub echoes my feelings toward this gifted and driven artist:
Looking at Chandler’s work in retrospect, it seems fair to say that he wasn’t really a “mystery writer”—or not first and foremost. Plots didn’t interest him much. They were just pegs on which to hang characters and language. His plots were not particularly original but that never bothered him. “Very likely Agatha Christie and Rex Stout write better mysteries. But their words don’t get up and walk. Mine do.” And: “I don’t care whether the mystery is fairly obvious but I do care about the people, about this strange, corrupt world we live in and how any man who tries to be honest looks in the end either sentimental or just plain foolish.”
Story construction and the tying up of loose ends never bothered him. When director Howard Hawks was filming The Big Sleep, he cabled Chandler: “Who killed the chauffeur?” Chandler cabled back: “No idea.”
When he himself collaborated with the young Billy Wilder on what was Chandler’s first Hollywood film, Double Indemnity, Wilder observed that “Chandler was a dilettante. He did not like the structure of a screenplay… He was a mess but he could write a beautiful sentence. ‘There is nothing as empty as an empty swimming pool.’ That is a great line.” He would later give his moody one-time partner credit for being “one of the greatest creative minds I’ve ever encountered.”
I think Chandler’s face reflects the purposeful rebellion and probing intelligence one senses behind the writer’s challenging and endlessly intriguing fiction.