Monday, September 27, 2010

La Jolla, 1949: The Little Sister

'The Little Sister" was published in 1949. The novel, Ray's first in six years, received a mixed reaction, with American critics (as usual) responding more harshly than their English counterparts. One American critic, writing in the New York Times, attacked the book for "its scathing hatred of the human race." But on the other side of the Atlantic, The Little Sister was seen differently: it described an alluring world, more formless, more dangerous, more free and exciting-and also more depressing-than found in England, a modern world, in other words, which seemed perfectly credible as a description of what went on out there in California, the crazy cutting-edge place that would eventually end up exporting its free-form, violent, consumer driven, personality-obsessed, and image-conscious culture to the rest of the globe. English critics and readers felt that the novel was inspired not by a hatred of the human race but a genuine concern for it. What Ray was doing was bringing news of the future to those for whom that future had not yet arrived, portraying a society in which drugs and addiction and the threat of casual, unstoppable violence was a daily reality. He offered a sense of the balefulness of hidden conspiracies, how the corrupt and powerful worked behind the scenes, undermining civilized behavior, and in that sense his California was ominous, portending what lay in store for not only America but the rest of the world. In England they got this, and in France they got it, too: his books were read by intellectuals and serious writers, such as W.H. Auden and Somerset Maugham and Albert Camus, J.B. Priestly and Edith Sitwell. 'Chandler," Auden wrote 'is interested in...The Great Wrong Place.'It wasn't simply a question of solving a mystery, or a puzzle, but understanding the malaise the work conveyed to the reader.'To read him is like cutting into an over-ripe melon," J.B. Priestly wrote, 'and discovering that it has a rare astringent flavour. He reduces the bright California scene to an empty despair, dead bottles and a heap of cigarette butts under the meaningless neon lights...and suggests...the failure of a life that is somehow short of a dimension, with everybody either wistfully wondering what is wrong or taking savage shortcuts to nowhere."

-Judith Freeman

The Long Embrace
Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved


Steve PP said...

Chandler is my favourite writer, I have read all of his work, masterpieces of observation indeed!

wavechild said...

Wow, that's a really accurate portrayal of how California can be. Cool.