The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

★★★★☆ (4/5)

My first crime noir was dark, intrepid, and thrilling. Chandler’s world building is quite gripping. I could almost envision the heat-choked greenhouse teeming with orchids, the corners of Geiger’s smut shop draped in the scene of burnt cigars, the long-winding roads and the unabashed, ceaseless rain tapping on glass panes.

The world of Philip Marlowe, a private eye, is full of corrupt men and diseased souls. He tends to treat people with a discreet aloofness which is either a charming virtue or an irredeemable vice, depending on who he is dealing with. The Sternwood sisters, Vivian and Carmen, were so compelling in their moods and coquetry, in their secrets and passions that I found myself gravitated towards them.

And who doesn’t enjoy some ludicrous similes once in a while? But when the goofiness comes to an end, and absurdity starts to become more frequent, you can’t help yourself but feel like punching the author or the character – whoever shows up in your face first. Here’s a compilation of them:

The Most Ridiculous Set of Similes

Casual Misogyny

  • Then she lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theater curtain.
  • She looked like a nice old horse that had been turned out to pasture after long service.
  • When I looked back she had her lip between her teeth and was worrying it like a puppy at the fringe of a rug.
  • Her whole body shivered and her face fell apart like a bride’s pie crust.
  • She was so platinumed that her hair shone like a silver fruit bowl.

Inventive but Ridiculous

  • I seem to exist largely on heat, like a newborn spider, and the orchids are an excuse for the heat.
  • He sounded like a man who had slept well and didn’t owe too much money.
  • His cigarette was jiggling like a doll on a coiled spring.
  • He shot at me like a plane from a catapult
  • Then her breathing began to make a rasping sound, like a small file on soft wood.
  • I reached a pipe out of my pocket and held it like a gun.
  • Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form itself on the edge of consciousness.
  • It was raining again the next morning, a slanting gray rain like a swung curtain of crystal beads.
  • His small neat fingers speared one like a trout taking the fly.
  • It had a heavy purr, like a small dynamo behind a brick wall.
  • I hung there motionless, like a lazy fish in the water.
  • She bought the glass over. Bubbles rose in it like false hopes.

Just Plain Hilarious

  • I lit the cigarette and blew a lungful at him and he sniffed at it like a terrier at a rathole.
  • The old man licked his lips watching me, over and over again, drawing one lip slowly across the other with a funereal absorption, like an undertaker dry-washing his hands.
  • His coat was cut from a rather loud piece of horse robe with shoulders so wide that his neck stuck up out of it like a celery stalk and his head wobbled on it as he walked.
  • His clasped hands rested peacefully on the edge of the rug, and the heat; which made me feel like a New England boiled dinner, didn’t seem to make him even warm.
  • A case of false teeth hung on the mustard-colored wall like a fuse box in a screen porch.
  • I was trussed like a turkey ready for the oven.
  • She bent over me again. Blood began to move around in me, like a prospective tenant looking over a house.
  • I balanced it there, and stepped back with my head on one side like a window-dresser getting the effect of a new twist of a scarf around a dummy’s neck.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

  • “A nice state of affairs when a man has to indulge his vices by proxy,” he said dryly. “You are looking at a very dull survival of a rather gaudy life, a cripple paralyzed in both legs and with only half of his lower belly. There’s very little that I can eat and my sleep is so close to waking that it is hardly worth the name. I seem to exist largely on heat, like a newborn spider, and the orchids are an excuse for the heat.”
  • I think they go their separate and slightly divergent roads to perdition. Vivian is spoiled, exacting, smart and quite ruthless. Carmen is a child who likes to pull wings off flies.

  • I sat down on the edge of a deep soft chair and looked at Mrs. Regan. She was worth a stare. She was trouble. She was stretched out on a modernistic chaise-longue with her slippers off, so I stared at her legs in the sheerest silk stockings. They seemed to be arranged to stare at.
  • At seven-twenty a single flash of hard white light shot out of Geiger’s house like a wave of summer lightning. As the darkness folded back on it and ate it up a thin tinkling scream echoed out and lost itself among the rain-drenched trees.
  • Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

  • “He didn’t know the right people. That’s all a police record means in this rotten crime-ridden country.”
  • You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.
  • “I been shaking two nickels together for a month, trying to get them to mate.”

  • “And for that amount of money you’re willing to get yourself in Dutch with half the law enforcement of this county?”
  • Till then I’m leaving Eddie in the clear. Jealousy is a bad motive for his type. Top-flight racketeers have business brains. They learn to do things that are good policy and let their personal feelings take care of themselves.
  • This was a square room with a deep old bay window and a stone fireplace in which a fire of juniper logs burned lazily. It was wainscoted in walnut and had a frieze of faded damask above the paneling. The ceiling was high and remote. There was a smell of cold sea.
  • Knowing other people’s business is the worst investment a man can make in my circle.
  • “Such a nice escort, Mr. Cobb. So attentive. You should see him sober. I should see him sober. Somebody should him sober. I mean, just for the record. So it could become a part of history, that brief flashing moment, soon buried in time, but never forgotten—when Larry Cobb was sober.”

  • The hissing noise came tearing out of her mouth as if she had nothing to do with it. There was something behind her eyes, blank as they were, that I had never seen in a woman’s eyes.
  • The light went off. The dimness was a benison.
  • What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now.

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