There is something sad and sorrowful about the sound of rain-water as it flows into the drains. After the heady feeling that a downpour ensues, there is a feeling of an ending as the rain-water gurgles in the gutters with a lingering sound.
Or perhaps these thoughts came to me only because I was reading the last pages of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye which I had picked up to pass the evening. There is something to be said, after all, about reading a thriller while munching on hot pakodas with the rain splattering all around. Pulp fiction with its tough-talking men and cold corpses in seedy hotels is always the best of the lot. The cover itself - a gun-totting Humphrey Bogart with a blonde latched on to him – promised me thrills.
And in that I was not disappointed. The tale of murder and deceit has all the requisites of its genre: brazen women with red lipsticks, blackmailers and double-crossers, cigar-chewing gangsters, corrupt cops, dead bodies, drugs and booze, hard cash, moneyed men in their lonely lives, and world- weary detectives.
However, there are books which rise above their own limitations and become a thing of exquisite beauty. The Long Goodbye is one such. By all purpose, hard-boiled fiction, it articulates the angst of a generation that lost itself in atom-bombs, the Blitz, and concentration camps.
“It did something to me,” says a character, summing up his war-time experience.
Not only to him, the war seems to have done something to everybody as war heroes turn into shady dealers and everybody waits for the Big Bang to end it all. “We’ll have another war and at the end of that...we’ll all be taxed to nothing”
The understated method, which Chandler uses to give expression to these men and women without shadows, is reminiscent of Hemingway. This is what a character has to say about his last moments:
“You read about these situations in books but you don’t read the truth. When it happens to you, when all you have left is the gun in your pocket, when you are cornered in a dirty little hotel in a strange country, and have only one way out …there is nothing elevating or dramatic about it.”
Beauty and bravery degenerate into brazenness and brawn and love becomes a one-night stand in cheap hotels. “The tragedy of life…” as one character puts it, “is not that the beautiful things die young, but that they grow old and mean.”
Now is it only the rains or is it true that to say good-bye is to die a little?
I wrote this piece after reading The Long Goodbye on a rain-drenched evening, a couple of years ago. It was my second Chandler after The High Window, and it made such an impression on me that I went on a Chandler reading-spree, finishing all his novels and several of his short stories.
Perhaps the man on the cover is not Humphrey Bogart. If so, please let me know. My knowledge of Hollywood heroes is limited. Before reading this, I had watched a feature on Bogart, and so the picture did seem to be of him .
Entry for letter L in the Crime Fiction Alphabet Meme.