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 Post subject: The Thin Man Question #9 - Writing Style
PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 11:32 am 
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Raymond Chandler described Hammet's writing style in The Simple Art of Murder:

"Hammett wrote... for people with a sharp, aggressive attitude to life. They were not afraid of the seamy side of things; they lived there. Violence did not dismay them; it was right down their street. Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse ... He put these people down on paper as they were, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. "

How would you describe Hammett’s writing style?



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 Post subject: Re: The Thin Man Question #9 - Writing Style
PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 11:43 am 
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I'd say that Chandler's assessment was spot on, because as I read the book I could actually see the characters in my mind and how they behaved didn't seem outlandish or inappropriate it was real. People are complicated, they can appear open while being duplicitous, naive and knowledgeable, course yet kind, etc. and Hammett knew that and that gave his characters more edge.

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 Post subject: Re: The Thin Man Question #9 - Writing Style
PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:59 pm 
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I would describe his style as intensely verbal and I mean the dialogue. Everyone is always talking and so much of the action takes place within conversation, back and forth stuff, or asides, so you have to follow it closely. And I also noticed this tendency to use more words in saying something than we would today. Not always; sometimes the dialogue bounces but sometimes people really wind it out. A tiny example picked at random, just opening the book:

"She's even better than he is. She can't remember things. The time her brother had his appendix out, she and Mimi were in a taxi going to see him the first afternoon and they passed a hearse coming from the direction of the hospital. Miss Alice turned pale and grabbed Mimi by the arm and said, "Oh dear! If that should be what's-his-name!"

It's a lot slower than how we speak today. We'd do something like "She's better than he is; she can't remember things. When her brother got his appendix out, Mimi and her were in a taxi going to see him and they passed this hearse coming from the hospital and Miss Alice, she turned pale and grabbed Mimi and was like "What if that's him." Which is interesting. I noticed his street people talk more like we do today, punchy, scattered. This isn't a good sign I guess.

I kind of like the idea of speaking slowly as I think it would reduce that feeling that your brain is running a thousand miles an hour. We do everything fast don't we? Just wait. Maybe we'll beep at each other, tonal accents.

Otherwise he's very neat in his use of words. Concise except for the little character studies he does now and then.



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 Post subject: Re: The Thin Man Question #9 - Writing Style
PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:59 pm 
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Except for the dialogue, his style reminded me of Hemingway. Terse, unadorned prose; descriptive when necessary.


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 Post subject: Re: The Thin Man Question #9 - Writing Style
PostPosted: Wed Feb 29, 2012 1:11 am 
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I have to agree, fansmom. Lots of “one true sentences.” And I think he uses the Iceberg Principle regularly.

Since my conversation with my boss today I’ve been wanting to find out what everyone thought of his style.

My boss, who was an English scholar at UC Berkeley and Stanford, told me today that he felt Hammett was more like the writers of the late 19th Century. Henry James came up. He said that Hemingway and Fitzgerald were lighter (I think “lighter” was the word he used). But I don’t agree. Here’s the thing. I don’t think my boss ever read The Thin Man (I think he had said this a while back). He read The Maltese Falcon. So maybe that is different. We do know that The Thin Man was not as highly regarded. But lets not get into comparing Hammett novels just yet. That's a question for another day.



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The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.
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 Post subject: Re: The Thin Man Question #9 - Writing Style
PostPosted: Wed Feb 29, 2012 11:54 am 
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I just found his writing style very confusing. The web of lies and contradictions lost me early on in the story. I don't think it was just this book, it is true of the Maltese Falcon as well. Too many characters introduced too quickly and all of them seemed the same to me except for Gilbert who was pretty vividly drawn. And it may be just that his writing doesn't compute with my brain and its thought processes because others of you here don't seem to have had so much difficulty following the story line and cast of characters.
Someone said they thought he portrayed the gritty style of street life and the times or something like that. Comparing Hammett's writing to something like Nelson Algren's The Man With the Golden Arm, I think Hammett just sort of skims over the surface. He just doesn't seem to explore anything in real deppth. JMHO.


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 Post subject: Re: The Thin Man Question #9 - Writing Style
PostPosted: Wed Feb 29, 2012 11:58 am 
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A quick check of my copy shows dialog on almost every page - as a matter of fact, the only section that wasn't almost continuous back-and-forth was the account of the Packer expedition - and that was a newspaper article.

Hammett's descriptions of his characters are compact and incisive, but the story is carried entirely by the dialog that crackles throughout. No surprise; he lived with a playwrite, after all.


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