Tag Archives: Marcus Mendes

Noir Fiction with Marcus Mendes

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

                                                           Some characteristics:

Cigarettes

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.

Booze

Everybody drinks. In neo noir this may be combined usually with tablets of pain-killers.

Femme Fatale

Not always present or fatal.

The Patsy or Fall-Guy

Either the protagonist or secondary character/s is always destined for downfall.

The Investigator

There is usually someone investigating something- typically death by trauma.

The Police

Because of ‘The Investigator’ factor, the police usually make an appearance, often in a starring role.

The Knockout

Whether Classic or Neo, knockouts supplement murder.

Snappy Dialogue

More usual in Classic Noir, but often still found in Neo-noir.

–Marcus Mendes

Thrilling Speed-Dating Across the Genres

There was a whole new crop of genres to speed-date at this year’s RA in a Half Day. These excellent 10 minute overviews offered so much food for thought, we had to include a coffee break mid-way to give everyone time to digest it. But at least everyone was all topped off with ideas and ready to go for the Challenging RA Questions that followed.

These brief summaries will give you a taste of the speed-dating presentations, but there will be more complete reviews to follow. You can also contact us for a full copy of any of the genre presentations.

Noir – Marcus Mendes, Vancouver Public Library

Very first comment from Marcus Mendes on Noir fiction – Noir does not take place in polite society. Through a series of evocative quotes from great representations of Noir fiction, Marcus pulled out the key features of the genre from the swirling cigarette smoke and booze soaked stories to the charter types of the Femme Fatale and the Chump . The basic premise, though, is that things are going to go down hill, seriously and fast.

Chick Lit – Heidi Schiller, North Vancouver City Library

Heidi Shiller reacted to the previous presentation by immediately describing Chick Lit as the “arch opposite of Noir.” At its essence, this literature is addressing issues of modern womanhood in an often humorous and lighthearted. These books have an urban and modern focus (not to mention shopping!), but they also often include romance sub-plots while not being simply a romance genre because the protagonist’s relationship to friends and family are central to the story. However, there is some conversation over whether or not Chick Lit as either a genre or just a label for these titles is dying out.

New Adult – Tanya Thiessen, Surrey Libraries

Right away Tanya Thiessen addressed the fact that with New Adult RA, we have to be comfortable talking about sex. New Adult is a marketing term for (at this time) mostly eBook and online, self-published fiction with 18-25 year old protagonists often in college settings facing issues of identity development and exploring sexuality while still dealing with the fallout of difficult childhood experiences. All of this is wrapped up in a fast paced, emotionally intense story with a focus on a love (and sex) relationship. There are availability issues with these titles in libraries (being mostly eBooks and online titles) but many are available free or very cheap.

Self-Help – Jenny Fry, Surrey Libraries

A clear message from Jenny Fry’s presentation on Self-Help is that you can’t look in one place in your stacks to find it. From the 150s to the 650s, there’s Self-Help across the shelves so find out where the many varieties are at and what they focus on. Three key aspect of self help to remember in providing RA are the kind of tailored guidance, accuracy and included forms and features included. Jenny wrapped up her presentation on Self-Help with the perfect statement of Self-Help – “Life is your biggest DIY project.”

Graphic Novels for Adults – Matthew Murray, UBC – iSchool at SLAIS

According to Matthew Murray, you could just define Graphic Novels as comic book with spines (good audience chuckle on this one). However, you also have to remember that Graphic Novels are a medium, not a genre, so it includes materials in all genre areas. For Readers’ Advisory, its good to be aware of the publishers, because they tend to have a particular style, tone and quality that readers gravitate towards. In addition, ComiXology, while not available to libraries, does provide access to free digital editions of many popular titles.

Horror – Naomi Eisenstat, Surrey Libraries/New Westminster Public Library

The heart of the Horror genre, according to Naomi Eisenstat is emotional, the fright of the reader. While it can have many styles, even humorous, the menacing tone is consistent. Horror often includes elements of thrillers and mystery but there are often unresolved endings. Consider what kind of horror the patron is looking for, either in the storyteller or more violent style.