As a sub-genre, domestic noir is increasingly popular. There’s something about the concept of unpacking a toxic marriage that holds appeal to readers, especially female readers. It’s not a new theme, though the name “domestic noir” is new (coined by novelist Julia Crouch in 2013). One only has to read Rebecca (written in 1938 and one of my favourite books) or even Jane Eyre (written in 1847) to see that marriages are not always a happily-ever- after scenario. Is our fascination because we see the sanitised versions of life on social media to such an extent that we need a reminder that life has a darker side? Is it because we feel, like some authors, that more awareness is needed of abuse and abusive behaviour, of mental illnesses, and the impacts of these on the victim, perpetrator and others around them?
I don’t see our fascination with the darker side of life to be anything new. The popularity of the crime and horror genres will attest to that. It’s like bad news v good news on TV – we like the happy stories, but often what gets us talking is the mad, bad or sad ones. Or reality TV – if it was all cutsie-pie, who would watch it? It’s the drama that compels us.
As a reader, I’m quite drawn to domestic noir (and crime fiction) – the tangled, dark relationships that exist underneath smiling facades. Just like in real-life, I want to try to understand why good people do bad things, especially when they are supposed to love each other “for better or worse”. At home, I’m the one who sees the good in everyone, who believes the best about people before I can accept the worst, often to my detriment. And, yet, in a recent short story I wrote, the main character was most definitely not good. I tried to make her good, but she wasn’t. And now, I want to know why. I want to explore that more.
Hachette recently sent me two domestic noir books – I Let You Go by Clare McIntosh and Season to Taste (or How to Eat Your Husband) by Natalie Young. They couldn’t be more different.
I Let You Go is a brilliant book (click on the image for the blurb). It’s a gripping, tense psychological thriller with an incredible twist that changes the pace and atmosphere of the whole book. It’s relatively slow-burning at the start – a child is killed in a hit and run and following this tragic event, a young woman runs away to start a new life – but when it reaches the boil, boy, does it boil. It’s assured writing and clever plot makes it a stand-out example of a psychological thriller in the domestic noir sub-genre. In my eyes, it’s a must-read for anyone into this type of book.
Season to Taste has an interesting and macabre premise (click here for the blurb). You have to look at it as a dark comedy – very dark. Unfortunately, it was a bit much for me to stomach and I had to set it aside. Reading about eating a roasted foot, discarding the rubbery sole and scraping flesh from the bones to make a stir-fry is not easy to sell even to those whose reading flavour is bold. Part of me wanted to keep reading to find out why the character smashed her husband over the back of the head, dismembered him, froze his parts in labelled bags and decided to eat him. What did he do to her? What happened in their marriage? In the end, I just couldn’t go there. Would you?
What are some examples of domestic noir you’ve loved or hated? What have you loved or hated about them?
I don’t think I will be going there either 🙂 I Let You Go is on my list though.
Roasted foot?? Eeek. Not for me. Do we have ‘Gone Girl’ (which I loved) to thank for Domestic Noir? I think maybe writers have always gravitated to darkness, in many forms, but maybe the domestic setting is now being seen as a suitable backdrop for it?
I don’t like the sound of the second one, but as you know I LOVED ‘I Let You Go’. LOVE loved it. I like Domestic Noir though I like the idea of broadening it to encompass families. SO many of the books I read are about horrible things that have happened in someone’s childhood to them or their family and they grow up scarred (and scared) etc.
Oh the ties that bind…
In film discussion the term domestic noir was already being used in 2007 at least — see the journal mardecortésbaja.com, A Journal Of Visual Culture, for an article by “Lloydville” on Domestic Noir — don’t know if I can post a URL here, but it’s worth a look.
The second novel looks too macabre for me too! I will give “I Let You Go” a try — though I can’t usually stomach stories involving children in accidents either! But I am interested in domestic noir.
The focus of this one is less on the accident and more on what happened before and after. It’s worth a read.
Are there any examples of domestic noir written from male points of view? I think my writing falls into this genre save for the fact that my protagonists are males.
Hi Travis. That’s a great question and I had to think about it a bit. The first that came to mind was Gone Girl, which has two POVs – the husband’s and then the wife’s. If you haven’t read it, and you’re writing in this genre, it’s worth a read. I had a quick look online and found a book called A Line of Blood by Ben McPherson (http://www.crimefictionlover.com/2015/03/a-line-of-blood/). I haven’t read this myself but it could be worth checking out.
The other one I thought of, that includes a male POV in a multiple viewpoint narrative, is The Son-in-Law by Charity Norman, which I thought was terrific. Here’s the Goodreads link (and there’s a review of it on this site if you search for it): https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17905351-the-son-in-law
It’s fantastic that you’re writing in this genre. I think it is one mostly covered by females so it’s good to get a male perspective in there. Keep writing!