Tag Archives: Raymond Chandler


Coming up to Christmas the media fills up with list articles. Top Tens of this and that. Bests and Worsts. Most memorable. The Season/Year/Decade/Century in Review and so on. It will be even more rife this year as we’re ending a decade.

Why do so many of these get published? Because they’re easy to write. Because people like them and argue over them. And because they’re usually a great filler at a time of year when less newsworthy stuff happens.

I indulged in lists here last year. This year I’m so befuddled I’m listing sideways myself. Better to be listing than listless, I guess. Here be some recommendations from me:

Favourite things I read in 2009, (old or new)

A Beginner’s Guide to Living – Lia Hills
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Faceless Ones – Derek Landy
Henrietta – Martine Murray
Little Brother – Cory Doctorow
Paper Towns – John Green
Somebody’s Crying – Maureen McCarthy
Ten Mile River – Paul Griffin

Picture books:
Mannie & The Long Brave Day – Martine Murray & Sally Rippin
Isabella’s Garden – Glenda Millard

2009 favourite listens

It’s been an odd year for my iPod. Normally I buy albums. This year I purchased individual tracks and largely sat with favourite albums from 2008 – or delved into the past to discover Tom Waits, John Coltrane and retro Wilco.

Of the few new albums that have had regular rotations, my favourites have been Smoking Gun from Lady of the Sunshine, Wilco from Wilco and White Lies for Dark Times from Ben Harper & Relentless7.

2009 favourite films

Man, there were so many flicks I wanted to see this year but didn’t get to in time (District 9, Samson & Delilah, Balibo, Blessed, The Changeling, Coraline). I’ll catch some of these on video over the silly season. Of those I did get to, I really enjoyed Ponyo, Watchmen, The Reader and The Hangover. I saw the latter with a bunch of mates on a boys’ night out. Laughed until my jaw hurt.

Given my aforementioned befuddlement, I know there will be things I’ve forgotten.

Personal highlights from the year have included finding a passionate publisher for Five Parts Dead, some of the workshops I conducted with students around the state and getting to know several other authors … and then realising we all struggle with the same stuff.

Every year has its tough times too. My thoughts are with those whose lives were altered forever by the February 7 inferno, along with those confronted by cancer or mental illness. Hang tough.

Awakened by The Big Sleep

It’s not often that the language in a novel prompts an actual smile, as distinct from the internal “nice one” moment of appreciation. There was a period, prior to a trip to the States, when I read Bill Bryson at night. His descriptions of small-town America made me laugh out loud. At other times authors such as Ian McEwan or Tim Winton will describe something so well my jaw drops. I’ll read these passages over and over, savouring the images used.

At present I’m reading Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. It’s a detective novel, perhaps THE detective novel, hailed as the benchmark for crime fiction. And it’s fantastic.

What I’m enjoying most are the devil-may-care descriptions the narrator, private investigator Philip Marlowe, serves up like raw steaks. The imagery is so vivid it makes me grin.

A few samples follow. I could have chosen umpteen others. Page references are from the 2008 Penguin edition (introduced by Ian Rankin):

On a hothouse full of orchids: “The light had an unreal greenish colour, like light filtered through an aquarium tank. The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men.” (p6)

On a femme fatale: “She approached me with enough sex appeal to stampede a businessmens’ lunch and tilted her head to finger a stray but not very stray, tendril of softly glowing hair. Her smile was tentative, but could be persuaded to be nice.” (p23)

On an ingenue: “Dark silent mystified eyes stared at me solemnly, the doubt growing larger in them, creeping into them noiselessly, like a cat in long grass stalking a young blackbird.” (pp 170-171)

On emptiness: “It was raining again the next morning, a slanting grey rain like a swung curtain of crystal beads. I got up feeling sluggish and tired and stood looking out of the windows … I was as empty of life as a scarecrow’s pockets…” (p174)

On a sad laugh: “Then she laughed. It was almost a racking laugh. It shook her as the wind shakes a tree. I thought there was puzzlement in it, not exactly surprise, but as if a new idea had been added to something already known and it didn’t fit. Then I thought that was too much to get out of a laugh.” (p213) 🙂

It’s great stuff. As I try to explain to students in my writing workshops, good writing is fresh and adventurous. Unexpected images and word combinations make the reader sit up and think. When’s the last time you pondered the contents of a scarecrow’s pockets?