7 de gener de 2016

Michael Connelly Chooses ‘The Long Goodbye’ for WSJ Book Club

[The Wall Street Journal, 6 january 2016]

WSJ Book Club host and crime novelist Michael Connelly was studying construction engineering in college when Raymond Chandler’s ‘The Long Goodbye’ inspired him to start writing

Lucy Feldman

Michael Connelly discovered “The Long Goodbye” through the ultimate readers’ taboo: He saw the movie first.
Long before launching his career as a crime novelist, Mr. Connelly was a University of Florida construction-engineering major who spent Monday nights watching movies at the student union. After seeing Robert Altman’s 1973 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel, he bought the paperback tie-in and his life as a writer began. “I bought all his novels, stopped going to class and just read them back to back to back,” he says. “I went and changed my major to journalism and creative writing and decided I wanted to try to be a writer.”
Four decades and 28 novels later, Mr. Connelly—this month’s WSJ Book Club host—is best known for his series about Los Angeles police detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, also the subject of the Amazon series “Bosch.” A former president of the Mystery Writers of America—a distinction he shares with Chandler—the 59-year-old Mr. Connelly selected “The Long Goodbye” for our next read.
Chandler’s spare prose reveals the gritty side of 1940s Los Angeles, where private eye Philip Marlowe—“the best character created in crime fiction” according to Mr. Connelly—looks for answers when a friend bolts to Mexico after his wife is found dead. The sixth book in Chandler’s hard-boiled Marlowe series, “The Long Goodbye” was published in 1953 and is considered by many to be his best work.

Mr. Connelly has built a vast Chandler collection around that first paperback from the 1970s. “It’s probably the most important book I’ve read,” he said.
We’ll be reading “The Long Goodbye” over the next several weeks, with discussion questions online. Follow along online on the club’sFacebook page, on Twitter with #WSJbookclub or sign up for our newsletter. Next month, Mr. Connelly will join us to discuss the book. An edited interview.
This novel had a profound impact on you. What makes it so powerful?
I’d read tons of crime fiction and I loved it, but nothing ever said maybe I’d like to try to do this. There was an artistry in the book, this weird mix of cynicism and hopefulness that seems to be contradictory. He had a way of getting them sometimes into the same sentence. I’d never been to Los Angeles, I lived 3,000 miles away, but it evokes the place, this place of mystery and sunshine that was just intoxicating to me.
What makes Chandler’s descriptions so striking?
He empathically connects to the reader because a description will be something you’ll never have read before or heard before but you still instinctively understand. Marlowe says, “I was as hollow and empty as the spaces between the stars.”…In, like, 10 words, he’s able to describe that feeling so well.
What do you hope readers will take away from the novel?
Forty years later, it still holds up. When it comes to writing at least, that’s the definition of art: something that’s significant and can pierce you many years after it was written. On the one hand this is a classic private-eye novel, it’s an entertainment. But what makes Chandler and what makes most crime writers today disciples of Chandler is that he has another dimension, a higher plane of work. His commentary is really subtle but it’s there and some of that can be pointed at today’s society.
What would you say to readers who struggle with Chandler’s treatment of his female characters?
There are aspects of Chandler’s writing that don’t hold up, wouldn’t wash in today’s world, and those areas are women and race. It becomes a little bit difficult to say I’m a writer because of this guy without some qualifiers…Certainly his view of women is pretty clear…You can make excuses and say it was of the time, but every writer is trying to write something that will transcend time.
Are there parts that really stick with you?
This book has the line, “There’s no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself.”…I think that is really a great thing to say about characters, especially in fiction. You want your main people to sometimes be their worst enemy and to trip themselves up. I wrote a book and I turned it in with the title, “No Trap So Deadly.” It was a while back. I can’t remember why—I think they said it sounded too noir, too 40s or something—I changed the title. But someday I might come back to that.
How do you create a classic character like Bosch or Marlowe?
You don’t give everything away. People who have read hundreds of these books like most of us, they’re rarely fooled. So it’s not the destination, it’s the ride. It’s the finessing of what to reveal and when, the internal workings of your protagonist…At the same time as you feel intimately aware of this character’s world, you’re never sure what he’s doing. You might know what he’s thinking in terms of his worldview, but when he makes his moves you’ve got to kind of sit back and wonder, and that really hooks people and keeps them going.
Do you see any of Marlowe in Bosch?
I do, and that’s by design. Marlowe is a private eye. He’s a classic outsider who looks in with a jaundiced eye on our institutions, especially the police department. I chose, because I spent so many years on cop beats, to use what I had and what I knew, so I made my guy a detective. Carrying a badge and a gun is hugely different from Marlowe. Harry Bosch is a representative of the power and might of the state. But always my mantra was he’s an outsider with an insider’s job.
Chandler writes in the first person. Why do you favor the third?
Initially I was afraid of first. It’s harder to hold stuff back. Chandler is pretty good at doing that, but for the most part if you’re in first person you’re kind of whispering to the reader, ‘This is what’s going on,’ so any time you hold something back you risk the reader feeling cheated…Maybe 10 books in, I thought OK, I’m ready to try to—accent on try—to emulate Chandler now. So I wrote [two] books with Harry Bosch in the first person, and they were quite a struggle…It’s hard to do Harry in the first person without coming off as a cheap Marlowe imitation.
Would Bosch and Marlowe get along?
I think they’d get along—but there probably wouldn’t be a lot of conversation.

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