Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Overripe Metaphor in The Big Sleep

Metaphors catch my attention in writing, and they usually please me, though nowadays we writers are warned not to lay them on too thickly. (The Mistress of Metaphor would be offended at the restriction.) Still, when I picked up Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, published in 1939, I was surprised to see his profuse use of metaphor--metaphors as thick and colorful as birds in a tropical aviary. Here are some selections from the first two chapters:

. . . decorative trees trimmed as carefully as poodle dogs.
. . . she had little sharp predatory teeth, as white as fresh orange pith and as shiny as porcelain.
. . .she lowered her lashes and . . . slowly raised them again, like a theater curtain.
The light had an unreal greenish color, like light filtered through an aquarium tank.
. . . nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket.
A few locks of dry white hair clung to his scalp, like wild flowers fighting for life on a bare rock.
. . . using his strength as carefully as an out-of-work showgirl uses her last good pair of stockings.
The champagne as cold as Valley Forge . . .
. . . he sniffed at it like a terrier at a rathole.
"I seem to exist largely on heat, like a newborn spider. . ."
". . . their perfume has the rotten sweetness of a prostitute."
. . . with a funereal absorption, like an undertaker dry-washing his hands.

And that's just the first seven pages! Establishes a tone, doesn't it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those aren't metaphors, they are similes.

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