|Nina van Pallandt as Eileen Wade in the 1973 Robert Altman movie version of The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler.|
The Long Goodbye (1953)
by Raymond Chandler
Phillip Marlowe had the distinction of being one of those characters in literature who was ahead of his time when he introduced to the public and lasting long enough for the world to catch up with him.
Marlowe's world weary cynicism, well in evidence from the first page of the first book, has by the time of the 1953 publication date of The Long Goodbye, become a popular attitude, with Marlowe himself being a role model for a generation of hipsters across the globe.
If you look at contemporary takes on detective genre as literature, artists like Thomas Pynchon and the Coen Brothers, it's easy to see how it is The Long Goodbye, rather than earlier detective-literature classics, that serves as the point of departure. The Long Goodbye feels literary, less like a story written for a genre audience and more like a book written for an existing, appreciative critical audience as a defining statement of a spectacularly popular character, the private detective, Phillip Marlowe. More than the plot, with its familiar mix of wealthy and intoxicated Angelenos getting themselves into murderous circumstances, The Long Goodbye is about Marlowe himself. There are segments of the book that describe his life away from the action central to the plot, with several pages being devoted to his relationship with "normal" clients, i.e. not the kind of statuesque blondes that show up in Chauffeur helmed Rolls Royce's.
I especially appreciated The Long Goodbye as I enter the period of literature typically called "post-modernism" where characters and plots begin to evaporate into thin air. I'm not saying that every novel needs to follow some set of rule in regards to character and incident, but the often disorienting techniques of post modern literature make every such novel a struggle.