The Big Sleep was easy enough to finish, but Farewell, My Lovely took a bit of a last-minute binge. Part of the reason for this is that Farewell, My Lovely has a chapter ending with the case seemingly wrapped up (at least as far as Marlowe’s involvement in it), so you wonder why he would bother investigating further. Sure, there are indications (later) that he’s unhappy with the resolution, but a) that’s of little value if the reader doesn’t agree*, and b) it’s after the point where the reader might have decided to put the book down. Ending every chapter with a cliffhanger may be cheap (*cough*DanBrown*cough*), but it keeps the reader turning pages.
To be fair, The Big Sleep has a similar seemingly-wrapped-up moment, but it’s around three-quarters of the way through the book, meaning I, at least, found it easy to keep going, even though I paused to wonder what was left to resolve. I suspect it also helped that I’d seen the Humphrey Bogart movie version, which made it simpler to pick up on who some of the characters were, without destroying the suspense (as the movie makes several changes to the story).
Once over that stumbling block, however, I enjoyed Farewell, My Lovely almost as much. I can see why they’re considered classics of the genre, complete with monologuing narrator, 30s/40s slang, femmes fatale, expressive similes, and a world-weary detective just trying to get by with integrity in a corrupt world. There’s a definite feeling of admiration in seeing the seemingly-disparate threads of a complicated adventure come together and be neatly tied up.
There was one thing that really bugged me, though, related to the period, and particularly so in Farewell, My Lovely given the inciting incident: casual racism**. It’s another reminder that there’s been some fairly significant shifts in certain cultural attitudes within the last 50 years. It does, however, make me think of the stereotype of the racist elderly relative (heck, Prince Philip could be the poster … er … child), and realise that (in a lot of cases) they’re just saying things that were commonplace when they were growing up, probably without malice, and almost definitely without being aware that such things are making younger people cringe.
We all relate to the world through the frame of our own experiences—what we consider “normal”. I vaguely wonder what things our generation will still be saying in a few decades that will appal our children/grandchildren. Because whatever it is, it’s worth considering whether it should be appalling us now.
* This actually ties in with something I’ve been pondering recently about video-game stories. There’s probably a post in it once I manage to reify my more nebulous thoughts, but that will be over on Semi-coherent Musings.
** There’s also a definite homophobia (though I feel that’s the wrong word, because it’s not a fear but a contempt), but oddly I didn’t notice much sexism. There’s the implicit stuff (types of job, etc), but women in the stories seem to have as much agency as men. Maybe it’s just the nature of the cases, that such issues aren’t relevant—I doubt the homophobia would have come up if there weren’t homosexuals involved in the story.