The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler The Annotated Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Series: Philip Marlowe #1
Published by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard on July 17, 2018
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Classic, Noir
Pages: 480
Format: eARC
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four-stars

Annotated and edited by Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson, and Anthony Rizzulo

The first fully annotated edition of Raymond Chandler's 1939 classic The Big Sleep features hundreds of illuminating notes and images alongside the full text of the novel and is an essential addition to any crime fiction fan's library.

A masterpiece of noir, Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep helped to define a genre. Today it remains one of the most celebrated and stylish novels of the twentieth century. This comprehensive, annotated edition offers a fascinating look behind the scenes of the novel, bringing the gritty and seductive world of Chandler's iconic private eye Philip Marlowe to life. The Annotated Big Sleep solidifies the novel's position as one of the great works of American fiction and will surprise and enthrall Chandler's biggest fans.

Including:
-Personal letters and source texts
-The historical context of Chandler's Los Angeles, including maps and images
-Film stills and art from the early pulps
-An analysis of class, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity in the novel

I read a lot of crime fiction and mystery stories, both modern and classic, but somehow I’ve skipped over Philip Marlowe. In this introduction to Marlowe, a dying millionaire hires him to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, and Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in. As the annotations show, even though this is the first in the series, it’s not really the first time we may have met Marlowe, although under other names. Chandler apparently often took earlier short stories he had written for pulp magazines like Black Mask, and combined and expanded them into the Marlowe novels.

The Big Sleep is a complicated story, set in 1930s Los Angeles, involving blackmail and a bookstore that is a rental library for pornography. The annotations provide lots of information about the time period, about Chandler’s writing, and about some of the cultural differences between now and then. Almost everyone in The Big Sleep is a bad guy to some extent, except Marlowe. The women are gamblers and as capable of killing as any man. The men are mobsters, flunkies, and blackmailers. Or too rich for their own good. It’s no wonder so many people end up dead.

Marlowe is really the only morally decent character. I think the best description of Marlowe was written by Chandler himself in The Simple Art of Murder and included in the annotations. “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor — by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.” Marlowe is witty and wise-cracking, he likes clothes and women, but he is not an anti-hero. He may be nonconformist, but he is definitely a good guy.

The story is a bit confusing, and some loose ends never get tied up. I enjoyed all the annotations, but they also broke up the story for me, which is a bit of a shame.

I watched the 1946 movie the weekend I read the book. I didn’t love Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe and the need to have Bogart and Bacall together at the end was a bit disappointing. And so much of the book is toned down or left out, but not in a way that improved it.

About Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler

Raymond Thornton Chandler (July 23, 1888 – March 26, 1959) was an American-British novelist and screenwriter. In 1932, at the age of forty-four, Chandler became a detective fiction writer after losing his job as an oil company executive during the Great Depression. His first short story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”, was published in 1933 in Black Mask, a popular pulp magazine. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939. In addition to his short stories, Chandler published seven novels during his lifetime (an eighth, in progress at the time of his death, was completed by Robert B. Parker). In the year before his death, he was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America. He died on March 26, 1959, in La Jolla, California.

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6 Comments

  1. J.E. Fountain

    Excellent review. I read this a few years ago, first time…liked it, but didn’t quite love it. I’m with you on the movie though. I was disappointed that they just had to have Bogey and Bacall together at the end…diminishes Marlowe. However, Bogey definitely IS Marlowe.

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