Why you should read The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
There are certain authors and novels that manage through some clarity of vision, style, or competence to inspire whole genres of fiction. I think of these books as Ur-fiction, literary artifacts that are worth studying to understand whole tracts of fiction. I'm talking about books like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, or the collected works of H P Lovecraft, or in the case of many of my favourite authors, the author Raymond Chandler. The Long Goodbye is often touted as Chandler's best novel and a classic of American literature, and so I thought it would be an interesting Ur-text to give a read.
The Long Goodbye is functionally a pulpy, noirey mystery novel that features Chandler's titular hero the private investigator Philip Marlowe. The Long Goodbye starts with Marlowe meeting Terry Lennox, a war veteran and sometime drunk with an on-again off-again marriage to a nymphomaniac millionaire wife. Marlowe and Lennox strike up a friendship until Lennox's on-again wife turns up dead and sends a fleeing Lennox to Marlowe for help. A decision that will send Marlowe afoul of detectives, gangsters, a powerful millionaire, and a famous author with a drinking problem.
The Long Goodbye is a quintessential ur-text. It's immediately apparent why the novel has inspired so many imitators and influenced so many authors: it's really, really good. The central mysteries of the novel are convoluted, scrupulously honest, and doled out in a really fun and challenging way: I could not put The Long Goodbye down. Add to that the very idiosyncratic, iconic prose style that is full of swagger, mugging, and a kind of utilitarian beauty and this surprisingly well presented snapshot of 1950s America and The Long Goodbye really demonstrates why Chandler looms so large in prose and comics. I was really impressed with the novel both as an enjoyable piece of fiction and as a literary rosetta stone.
I would recommend The Long Goodbye to any genre fan. Chandler is just such a titan among my favourite genre novel and comics writers and artists that to not at least sample his work seems kind of criminal. While I can't speak for his other works (yet...), The Long Goodbye is a novel that will let you explore Raymond Chandler and tell you a really engaging story in the process. You won't be disappointed and you might just understand some of your favourite writers a bit more.