Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Raymond Chandler - Playback

In the introduction to my edition of this novel, Chandler's biographer tells us that the author was drunk and depressed for most of the time he wrote Playback. If this was true, it is testament to Raymond Chandler's genius that the writing doesn't suffer as much as might be expected. Nonetheless, the story carries with it all the signs of depression that were associated with Chandler's last years.

In this final complete novel, Philip Marlowe returns. Now his amusing cynicism is deeply ingrained. His frustration and short-temper bringing sometimes violent confrontation with those he encounters. As with other Marlowe novels, the story itself matters only a little, the language and style being far more stimulating. Unusually for Marlowe though, the plot twists on our hero turning on his employer and siding with the victim. Also unusual is the lead character Eleanor King, who appears to be both vulnerable and scheming. Running from her own past, she's pursued by several others, each hoping to get her money or their own vengeance. Only Marlowe, who knows little about the back-story, stands between her and them.

There's a high body count, as well as a beautifully crafted love scheme between Marlowe and the secretary of his employer. The beauty here is not in any detailed erotica, but the passion of a couple both highly alienated and depressed, coming together for mutual support and satisfaction, albeit for only a few hours.

The novel itself finishes with a surprising continuity for this type of book. The tying up of lose ends feels like Chandler himself was finishing off some little details. Its hard not to think he knew the end of his life was approaching and didn't want to leave his most famous creation hanging cynical and alone. The tragedy of Chandler's life is that is exactly how his ended.

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