Vancouver Public Library’s Marcus Mendes covered the basics of Noir Fiction as part of our Speed Dating Through the Genres presentation at RA in a Half Day on Oct. 30th. Here is his presentation, followed by some important take-away points!
Boiled to Black
Who done it? It wasn’t Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the candlestick; it was Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford in the bedroom, with his fists. Like Deputy Ford, early Noir was American. Europe soon followed, at first in poor imitation, but now has some of the best noir authors.
Noir tales aren’t polite, nor do they take place in polite society. The proceedings are dire, strewn with violence and conclude with severe loss.
There are a variety of definitions of the genre. Here are some of my own: Noir is closely aligned in spirit with the Greek Tragedies. The extant tragedies deal exclusively with the causes of, war itself, and aftermath. The golden age of Noir (late 1930’s – 1960) -and film noir- continues the exploration of people caught in circumstances beyond their control.
The best high-octane noir should have episodic drive, a tone of fatalistic ruination, and unaffected narrative. It is not unusual to have an unreliable narrator.
The best of the genre are hardboiled and drenched with existential unease. If existential stress is not present, it is simply hardboiled, also quaintly called Thuglit. For example, all of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series are hardboiled, but not all are noir.
Noir fiction includes a number of sub-genres such as Comedy: Bowker, David / How To Be Bad; Westerns: deWitt, Patrick / The Sisters Brothers, and historical: Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series
Out of the Past: “Cigarette”? reply, “Smoking”. In Noir’s golden age everybody smokes. Cigarette’s convey language and mood. When alone, a person stares at the ceiling and smokes.
In Neo-Noir (post 1970’s) cigarettes are rare.
Everybody drinks. In neo noir this may be combined usually with tablets of pain-killers.
Not always present or fatal.
The Patsy or Fall-Guy
Either the protagonist or secondary character/s is always destined for downfall.
There is usually someone investigating something- typically death by trauma.
Because of ‘The Investigator’ factor, the police usually make an appearance, often in a starring role.
Whether Classic or Neo, knockouts supplement murder.
More usual in Classic Noir, but often still found in Neo-noir.