The Piccadilly branch of Waterstones in central London was last night the scene of a dramatic and intriguing discussion on crime fiction’s celebrated new sub-genre: domestic noir. Ringmaster at the proceedings was crime expert Barry Forshaw, who tamed a threesome of talented authors including Laura Wilson, Jason Starr and MJ McGrath.
One thing the panellists were quick to point out is that although Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl has inspired publishers to seek dozens more books in the domestic noir groove, this style of novel is not really as new as we think. It goes back to Victorian fiction such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca which was published in the 1930s, as well as Celia Fremlin’s 1958 novel The Hours Before Dawn. Jason Starr pointed to Harlan Coben too – one of the rare male authors writing domestic noir, who’s been doing it since the 1990s.
Jason Starr’s Savage Lane fits the category well and we reviewed it here, while Laura Wilson’s The Wrong Girl came out in June and is the story of a young girl who, at the age of 10, becomes convinced she was the victim of a kidnapping similar to that of Madeline McCann. MJ McGrath is known for her Edie Kiglatuk series which is set in Arctic Canada, but has a domestic noir thriller set in London on the way, entitled Give Me the Child.
The current popularity of this sub-genre is seeing women come to the fore as the main characters – likeable or not – in crime fiction. It’s the rise of the anti-heroine, you could say.
Rage and revenge
“Women can now have unlikeable characteristics such as rage and revenge,” said MJ McGrath. “But they are characteristics that make them relatable to women readers. Lots of women love reading about them.”
McGrath also made the point that children are playing a greater role. We live in a society where children are more visible, have more rights, and within families and in public they have greater power than ever before. So a child’s point of view in the story, even as a lynchpin in the plot line, is an important element in some domestic noir.
Where next for domestic noir? Laura Wilson rolled out a statistic that could provide clues. “In this country in 2011 and 2012 there were 1.2 million women who were victims of domestic violence. There were 800,000 male victims. The gap was much less than I expected,” she said.
So, will we see a few authors switching the paradigm and making men the victims in domestic noir novels? Perhaps this is already happening. As MJ McGrath pointed out, Gone Girl’s lead character Amy Dunne is a bit of a tyrant…
The evening was organised by No Exit Press and Waterstones.