Detective Philip Marlowe must find out who’s putting the squeeze on General Sternwood’s thumb-sucking nympho daughter and, if it’s not too much trouble, locate the general’s vamoosed son-in-law. But by the time Marlowe has negotiated all the molls and gambling addicts and blackmailers and pornographers and crooked cops and trigger-happy gunmen who populate this SoCal wonderland, a first-time reader may well have lost the plot’s thread ... There is no shame in that: Chandler lost it, too. But Big Sleep annotators Owen Hill, Pamela Jackson and Anthony Rizzuto argue persuasively that Chandler’s indifference to story is not just negligence but a deliberate subversion of the classic mystery-puzzle template.
Philip Marlowe, is an 'archetypal wisecracking, world-weary private detective who now occupies a permanent place in the American imagination.' His narrative style, featuring slang-filled dialogue, a panning 'camera eye' approach to scene description, and hyperbolic similes, is much admired and imitated. His depiction of Los Angeles in the 1930s and ’40s, furthermore, cast the city 'in some ways as the other major character in the Philip Marlowe novels.' ... The Annotated Big Sleep is a terrific addition to your crime fiction library.
But here’s the question: when I read The Big Sleep for the first time (or subsequently, for that matter), was there much in there that I didn’t understand? And I’m not talking about plot matters such as who killed the chauffeur, or why the cute but borderline-insane murderess isn’t prosecuted, but rather matters of fact and vocabulary ... The fact is, it’s rare, if ever, that we read a book and understand every single word, every literary allusion, every local or historical reference, just as we don’t understand every single thing we encounter as we go about our lives ... but ... there’s a huge amount to enjoy in the book. I found myself more intrigued by the background information than by the editors’ close reading of the text, which sometimes feels like they’re breathing over your shoulder and making arch remarks, telling you how to read ... The book’s bibliography is lengthy without being exhibitionistic, and the editors have even managed to track down a treatise on 'the lost art of walking,' by one Geoff Nicholson, that contains a short section about Chandler. Top-notch sleuthing. Marlowe would be proud.
Any dedicated student of The Big Sleep might feel that they know the implications of all the bits of symbolism Chandler packs into each scene – for example, the stained glass panel in the Sternwood mansion showing a knight in armor rescuing a half-naked lady tied to a tree. Marlowe ruminates about this image, deciding that the knight doesn’t seem to be trying hard enough to free her, leaving the implication hanging: Is the knight savoring the predicament, or does Marlowe think he would do a more efficient job if he were in the situation? ... They’ve been worked like a master sculptor working a block of marble. The page where that little sister from hell, Carmen Sternwood, enters, has at least one annotation per line ... This is an awesome tribute to an awesome book. If you’re not interested, listen, pal, you can just drift.
Nearly 80 years after its original publication, Chandler’s iconic debut novel finally gets the scholarly treatment it deserves with this superb, lovingly annotated edition. The enduring 1939 tale of blackmail and corruption introduced readers to private detective Philip Marlowe and remains one of the most influential novels in American literature, inspiring countless books and films ... For readers already well-acquainted with the book, the annotations force us to slow down and consider the historical context in which it was conceived. Drawing from contemporary newspaper accounts of crimes, as well as bits of cultural archeology from period Los Angeles, the notes reveal the psychological toll of the boom-and-bust rise of the city, the dark underbelly of Hollywood, the racial and sexual attitudes of the era, and the widespread corruption that seemed to permeate all aspects of society, from the scions of industry to the LAPD.
...thoroughly, exhaustively annotated ... The novel is a muscular, slightly oily sock to the jaw – it seems about as hospitable to a scholarly annotated edition as a single tweet from Kanye West. It seems, in other words, like precisely the kind of thing Chandler himself would have crafted a quip to deride ... unfailingly interesting ... it's mercifully controlled. Ironically, one of the most encouraging things about The Annotated Big Sleep is the amount of blank-page space that's free of annotations. It's a sure sign of the editors' understanding that these blank spaces tend to increase in size and frequency as the novel picks up speed.
If you have never read The Big Sleep, don’t begin by reading with annotations; the notes are excellent but necessarily interruptive ... The notes also address some of the book’s thornier issues for 21st century readers ... A lot of the attitudes that crop up in the book are just as dated — sexist, racist, homophobic. The editors of The Annotated Big Sleep do a fine job of putting them in the context of the historical period and Chandler’s biography, and analyzing what they mean to readers today.