It’s Los Angeles in 1929, a glittering city on the verge of a crash. A bogus mystic and her alluring daughter have relieved an oil tycoon’s nephew of his fortune. But the kid won’t talk. To find the money, the old man calls in a trusted executive, one Raymond Chandler. Hello? This is the plot outline for The Kept Girl, a forthcoming novel by Kim Cooper which we hope to review shortly in the drb. In fact, Raymond Chandler, not then the pulp fiction writer he was to become in the 1930s (The Big Sleep, the first Philip Marlowe novel, came in 1939), was a young, but highly paid, executive with the Dabney Oil Syndicate in California, a job he was eventually to be fired from for drunkenness, womanising and absenteeism. And while we’re on Chandler, Philip Marlowe is due to be ventriloquised late next month in a new novel from Benjamin Black, The Black Eyed Blonde.
What is the nature of the Chandler appeal, the Marlowe appeal? It’s the dialogue of course, but there’s something else. Margaret Atwood explains:
An affair with Raymond Chandler, what a joy! Not because of the mangled bodies and the marinated cops and hints of eccentric sex, but because of his interest in furniture. He knew that furniture could breathe, could feel, not as we do but in a way more muffled, like the word upholstery, with its overtones of mustiness and dust, its bouquet of sunlight on ageing cloth or of scuffed leather on the backs and seats of sleazy office chairs. I think of his sofas, stuffed to roundness, satin-covered, pale blue like the eyes of his cold-blonde unbodied murderous women, beating very slowly, like the hearts of hibernating crocodiles; of his chaises longues, with their malicious pillows. He knew about front lawns too, and greenhouses, and the backs of cars.
This is how our love affair would go. We would meet at a hotel, or a motel, whether expensive or cheap it wouldn’t matter. We would enter the room, lock the door, and begin to explore the furniture, fingering the curtains, running our hands along the spurious gilt frames of the pictures, over the real marble or the chipped enamel of the luxurious or tacky washroom sink, inhaling the odour of the carpets, old cigarette smoke and spilled gin and fast meaningless sex or else the rich abstract scent of the oval transparent soaps imported from England, it wouldn’t matter to us; what would matter would be our response to the furniture, and the furniture’s response to us. Only after we had sniffed, fingered, rubbed, rolled on and absorbed the furniture of the room would we fall into each other’s arms, and onto the bed (king-sized? peach-coloured? creaky? narrow? four-posted? pioneer-quilted? lime-green chenille-covered?), ready at last to do the same things to each other.