Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

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After some fairly dense fantasy fiction I wanted to cleanse the palate. Reading Farewell My Lovely (1940) is like drinking a glass of milk; the prose is cool, smooth, and economical. There are already more semi colons in this review than I can recall in the entire book.

Raymond Chandler’s style is direct, terse, and in the early twentieth century vernacular. By this, the LA setting appears vivid. Its streets, slums, mansions, dice houses, hotels, and grubby police stations are clear in the mind by his evocative thumbnail descriptions. Similarly, people are introduced by an eye-catching detail, such as a frayed shirt, an ill-fitting hat, wart, scar, grubby or clean hands, in a way that is suggestive of their wider character. The way Chandler can suggest so much about setting and character with so few words is admirable, and probably his central appeal.

His use of simile is the most obvious literary aspect of the novel. There are similes throughout, used for wit, emphasis, humor, and foreshadowing. These are combined with the vernacular style in a way which makes the novel read less prosaically.

The plot is successfully written in the sense that the central mystery is not obviously apparent until the end of the book. It is not a profound story but an entertaining one, well observed, easily enjoyed and with a satisfying conclusion. Of course, the reader should remember the time the book was written in, in the forties, so that some of its writing about race can be put into context.

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