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Monday, November 27, 2017

Noir and Neo-Noir



Noir and Neo-noir

I have four noir short story compilations from Akashic Books on my shelf right now, and I want to share them with you. Also, I just reviewed Deadbomb Bingo Ray, the best-named novel ever. Before I read these books, I had to find a definition of “noir” fiction. Here is the definition of noir fiction from Wikipedia: “ a literary genre closely related to hardboiled genre with a distinction that the protagonist is not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Other common characteristics include the self-destructive qualities of the protagonist."

In other words, hardboiled detective fiction and noir fiction are philosophically and diametrically opposed to each other. “One is dependent on its hero maintaining the ethical high ground while most everyone with whom he interacts lies, cheats, steals and kills. The other features people who wallow in the sty that is their world. The machinations of their lust, whether for money or love (which, in noir fiction, is a four-letter word for sex), will cause them to be blinded to rudimentary decency as they become entangled in the web of their own doom.” Another difference is that in hardboiled detective fiction, the reader will have a general sense that justice has been done—even though there may not be a happy ending. In noir fiction, however, there is never a sense that justice has been done and there is never a happy ending. One reviewer says, “The noir story with a happy ending has never been written, nor can it be. The lost and corrupt souls who populate these tales were doomed before we met them because of their hollow hearts and depraved sensibilities.” If you are a movie person, think LA Confidential or The Maltese Falcon.

Neo-noir is slightly darker than noir, but neither has any consciousness that justice will be done. In neo-noir, the world is just a shithole (pardon my language) and the characters are just trying to get through it all. Often the protagonist gets away with the crime. Movie buffs with recognize this in Point Blank or Blood Simple. Some say that Chinatown is the greatest neo-noir movie, and another reviewer says that it is one of the “greatest, most stylish films ever made.”

If you want a send up of noir and neo-noir movies, watch Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang from 2005. It has all the noir characteristics and is funny to boot.

Here is the article about noir fiction in the Huffington Post. Penzler closes his article with these words: “I love noir fiction. It makes doom fun. And who doesn’t like fun?”


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