I don’t have a lot of willpower. I can be stubborn, I can be persistent, but they’re other things entirely. But willpower. Put an item in front of me that I either like or suspect I will enjoy and I find it tricky to turn my interest elsewhere. This makes me a rather bad dieter, a fluctuating exerciser, an ‘accidental’ book and handbag buyer, and a regular flirt. It should also help give you an idea of just how hard I’m finding it right now to not write this entire review of Raymond Chandler’s The High Window in a Chandler-esque fashion. Because how on earth can one resist using such stylish expression?
Chandler’s writing, and the narration of his character Phillip Marlowe in particular, invites mimicry. Everyone thinks they can do it and everyone thinks they do it fairly well. Some people do it and don’t even realise who they’re imitating, such has Chandler’s style weaved its way through the gullies of our collective subconscious. The reason for this, I think, is because of the appeal of his storytelling style, of the language that he uses, of the specific and often slightly quirky observations he makes, of the dry wit. Boil all that down and we end up with words. The words he chose and way he uses them. A fellow blogger recently reviewed The Big Sleep, which has also been reviewed on Pile o’ Books before, by simply listing some of his favourite sentences from the novel. It was a cool way to talk about the appeal of Chandler’s style in an entertaining way, and to be honest I wish I had thought to do it first. Because for me, the pleasure of reading Chandler is all in the kick I get out of coming across his descriptions and observations, of reading his snappy dialogue, of hearing Marlowe’s comebacks to the clients, broads and scumbags who pepper his cases.
This is usually the general area of a post where I would attempt to give a brief rundown of the plot of the book I’m discussing, but you know what, I’m starting to realise that I don’t really read Chandler for the ‘story’. Sure, sure, private detective tale, someones wants the hero to find something, someone is dead, some crazy bird is causing a fuss, our hero must sort out everything for all involved, get paid and try not to wind up dead in a ditch himself. I dig that kind of thing, I do. And we all know that Chandler is the writer other crime writers should erect a small shrine to and give thanks that he made detective stories what they are. But! I confess that in the end, at least with The High Window, I wasn’t as concerned about what had happened to the coin, who’d copied what, double-crossed who, wanted which person dead, pushed which chap out of a window. I mean sure, I paid some attention—I was reading the book after all—but the ‘whodunnit’ and the ‘wotsgunnahappen’ were not my main focuses. I was more wrapped up in the words and phrases and descriptions. And if you read my post from last year on the Big Sleep, you’ll see that what I gushed about the whole time were these exact things.
So here is a rather short, crass review of Raymond Chandler’s The High Window, from a so-called avid and wide reader who may need her head read: ‘Words good, plot passable. Will read novels written by this author again but won’t necessarily be breaking into the local second-hand bookstore to snaffle another noir crime special on the double.’ (But can we make that a double? Thanks.)
I read The High Window in p-book form. If I had read it on my Kindle I would have used the highlighting tool on every second page. And because I read a paper version this book is sitting on my (currently sparsely inhabited) bookshelf in London. If you happened to be gawking about my bedroom, spied the novel and pointed at it, I would tell you that Raymond Chandler is a wonderful writer, a superb stylist and that reading The Big Sleep was a joyous experience for me. So read The Big Sleep first. And if you fall in love with the words and style of this breakthrough crime fiction writer, then you can read The High Window and enjoy those types of words and that same style all over again. You just may not recall exactly what happened to that coin, or perhaps, in the end, just not care so much.