Thursday, 16 October 2014

Raymond Chandler in Bucharest

I just gave the girls in the office a copy each, in Romanian translation, of Farewell, My Lovely. I spotted copies on sale at the tobacco kiosk in the street below. I envy anyone reading Raymond Chandler for the first time. He is not just a good detective story writer but a great writer, a major prose stylist. 

Why is Chandler one of the immortals? Sir Tom Stoppard explains here.
It was not the admittedly enjoyable asides.
     ''You can't tell anything about an outfit like that,''
Marlowe reflects as he smokes his cigarette.
    ''They might be making millions, and they might have the sheriff in the back      room, with his chair tilted against the safe.' '
It was more this, which is what happens next.

''Half an hour and three or four cigarettes later a door opened behind Miss Fromsett's desk and two men came out backwards, laughing. A third man held the door for them and helped them laugh. They all shook hands heartily and the two men went across the offi ce and out. The third man dropped the grin off his face and looked as if he had never grinned in his life.''

Look at it. This is writing at 24 frames per second. The paragraph mimics the action. You get the wait, then the door; you g et their backs before the laughing. The repeat ''laugh'' placed at the end of the sentence pulls the laughter through the intervening time. The ''out'' at the end of the next sentence is the monosyllable made by the door closing.

Chandler, improbably, went to Dulwich, the same English minor public school  as P.G. Wodehouse and C.S. Forester (and Nigel Farage). It's odd that Wodehouse is also a popular writer who will outlive his highbrow contemporaries - whether C.S. Forester does I am less sure. Chandler wrote only six novels - slowly - and the major character in all of them is not Philip Marlowe, their hero, but Los Angeles, a city which Raymond Chandler hated. 

How I should like to make Bucharest the main character in a novel.

Here are some more quotations:

There is no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.

To say goodbye is to die a little. 
He looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.

She jerked away from me like a startled fawn might, if I had a startled fawn and it jerked away from me.
When I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split.
From 30 feet away she looked like a lot of class. From 10 feet away she looked like something made up to be seen from 30 feet away.

Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren't as good as others.

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.

When I got home I mixed a stiff one and stood by the open window in the living room and sipped it and listened to the groundswell of traffic on Laurel Canyon Boulevard and looked at the glare of the big angry city hanging over the shoulder of the hills through which the boulevard had been cut. Far off the banshee wail of police or fire sirens rose and fell, never for very long completely silent. Twenty four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is trying to catch him. Out there in the night of a thousand crimes, people were dying, being maimed, cut by flying glass, crushed against steering wheels or under heavy tires. People were being beaten, robbed, strangled, raped, and murdered. People were hungry, sick; bored, desperate with loneliness or remorse or fear, angry, cruel, feverish, shaken by sobs. A city no worse than others, a city rich and vigorous and full of pride, a city lost and beaten and full of emptiness. It all depends on where you sit and what your own private score is. I didn't have one. I didn't care. I finished the drink and went to bed.

It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.

There's more Chandler here. 


  1. Remarkable to think he was very nearly a schoolmate of P.G.Wodehouse. describing a policeman Plum's famous line "There was nothing on his mind except his helmet. " is another and very different style of perfection.

  2. A Wodehouse line that could have been written by Chandler "She looked like she'd been poured into the dress and forgotten to say when. "

    1. Yes it really could, but said by Marlowe it sounds much sexier.

  3. I had the pleasure of working with Paul in Bucharest too many years ago. Him buying and sharing that Chandler book with his employees is just one example of Paul 's thoughtfulness.