Saturday, January 31, 2015

Writing a new Philip Marlowe: a question of dialogue, attitude and style

Marlowe is one of the literary immortals, but after I was asked to write a new outing for him, I had to find a way to stay true to the character without falling into slavish imitation 

Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe with Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep.
Not very tall ... Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe with Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis
When it was first suggested to me, by my agent and the Raymond Chandler estate, that I might write a Philip Marlowe novel, I was distinctly chary of the idea. Marlowe is one of the immortals, up there with Don Quixote, Emma Bovary and Leopold Bloom, and any attempt to resurrect him would be subject to beady-eyed scrutiny by Chandler’s numerous admirers, a rightly protective cohort, and a frighteningly knowledgable one, too. Then there was the question of whether to update Marlowe for a modern audience, or stick with the original model.

At first, I thought to adopt the former approach. On a simple level, the Marlowe books are far more decorous than the raunchy crime novels of today. Could I really, in our foul-mouthed age, have Marlowe telling a tough LA cop to “go boil your head”, the kind of euphemistic invective Chandler had to confine himself to, given the conventions of his day? And what about Marlowe’s mild but politically incorrect attitudes to women, black people and, in particular, homosexuals? Surely, an updating was required.

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