On Reading: Raymond Chandler, a Biography

It seems like the last few times I’ve read certain authors, their names have become prefixed with “Uncle” in my mind. Is that weird? Well, maybe. It’s human though.

I guess I want to identify with, or feel connected to good storytellers.

When I read Einstein’s book on Relativity, his voice was so distinctively heard in my head, that it felt as if I were sitting on Uncle’s lap, with his voice speaking in my ear. It may have started there, I’m not sure.

Next were the memoirs of Groucho Marx, whose anecdotes, observations and humour seemed warmly self-deprecating. It wasn’t long before he became my “Uncle Groucho”. Likewise with his brother Harpo, whose long, detailed autobiography seemed to put me right into his early life in New York, and later, into the middle of his loving, idiosyncratic years as a devoted family man in California.

I think it’s the first-person narrative of an autobiography that makes it work so well. The “you” is replaced with an “I”, which we all have inside us, and which resonates one-to-one with similar “I”s.

That’s why pulp fiction author Raymond Chandler got under my skin more than, say, Ian Fleming. Like an autobiography, Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe novels are written in the first-person, so they each sound like Marlowe’s autobiography (although really, they are Chandler’s).

Raymond Chandler was highly intelligent, a keen observer of people and human nature, and also a major, chronic alcoholic who came to a sad and lonely end. He’s triumphant and tragic, all together.

So, he’d probably be a colourful “Uncle” who could spin tall tales and be witty as hell, but also could as easily fall down drunk into the tree and ruin a Christmas morning.

Been there.

Welcome to the family “Uncle Raymond”.

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3 comments to On Reading: Raymond Chandler, a Biography

  • This is a bit nerdy but you might be interested. Raymond Chandler used to sit at the foot of his Uncle Earnest in Plattsmouth Nebraska and listen to tall tales. Here’s an extract from a letter written to Charles Morton on 1st January 1945 which I thought you might like:
    ‘My…uncle’s (by marriage only) name was Earnest Fitt…He used to come home in the evening…put the paper on the music rack and improvise while he read it…He had a brother who was an amazing character. He had been a bank clerk or manager back in Waterford…and had embezzled money…and with the help of the Masons, escaped the police net to…Europe. In some hotel in Germany his money was stolen, or most of it. When I knew him, long after, he was an extremely respectable old party, always immaculately dressed, and of incredible parsimony.’

  • Wow! A cool anecdote, Tom. Thanks for adding that little bit of meat for me! It looks to me like you are a true aficionado of Mr. Chandler. I’ll post some links to your articles here…

  • Ha! Thanks. There’s probably a Chandler quote for most things. Question is to find it.