Friday, August 10, 2012

Keeping Philip Marlowe Alive

John Banville as Benjamin Black
(Barry McCall/McMillan)
The big Raymond Chandler news this week has been that the Booker-prize winning British novelist John Banville, who writes mysteries under the pen name Benjamin Black, is working on a new novel starring Philip Marlowe. The book, which has been authorized by the Chandler estate, will be published by Henry Holt in 2013.

Robert B. Parker was the first author to take a crack at Chandler's famous detective character, first completing Chandler's four-chapter fragment Poodle Springs and then creating a full Marlowe novel from scratch, Perchance to Dream: Sequel to Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep. In the 1980s, Byron Preiss put together Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, an  anthology of short stories starring Philip Marlowe, each of which was written by a range of authors including Sara Paretsky and Robert Crais.

The news of Banville's effort has generated a lot of press, most of which has been informative and neutral in tone. Malcolm Jones of the Daily Beast, however, has declared the novel "a terrible idea".

"Resurrected fictional characters are the living dead of literature, " Jones argues. "Everything about them is always at least a little off, like a copy of a copy of a copy." Marlowe, he continues, has proven particularly difficult  for anyone--from Bogart to Robert B. Parker--to recreate, and he raises some very good points about how Chandler's Los Angeles was a very personal creation based on decades of experience.

The proof will be in Banville/Black's final manuscript, but if nothing else it shows Philip Marlowe's staying power. Three quarters of  a century in, he's still engaging readers and writers alike.

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