Tuesday 19 August 2014

Suburban, Domestic and Chick-Noir - New Genres in Psychological Thrillers

Suburban Noir – the dark side of suburban living - is close to home. It is on our doorstep, the neighbourhood - and breeds threat with themes of secrets, being trapped, being watched/stalked and things not being what they seem - all seen from behind those twitching net curtains. This sub-genre can be traced back as far as David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Remember that series on television? With the quirky FBI Special Agent, Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan)? This sub-genre also spawns a number of novels about so-called friendships - that best-friend who isn't as loyal as we'd hoped... There is an immediacy about the terror in this sub-genre - we can all relate to suburban noir. The setting isn’t some faraway international cold war spy-ring or trek through the jungles of Brazil. It’s just beyond your washing line. Up-close-and-personal. Scary...
Amazon have a category in their bookshelves labelled ‘Crime, Thrillers and Mystery’. It’s a huge area in commercial fiction with no less than 18 sub-categories, including Police Procedurals, Legal and Psychological. In the last few years even more 'sub genres' have been emerging under Psychological Thrillers. Until recently, for example, I’d never heard of the term ‘Suburban Noir’ – but there is also 'Domestic Noir’ and ‘Chick Noir’  – and I thought it might be worth taking a look at this 'new black'.

Domestic Noir
brings the threat even closer. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a good example, where a marriage is the breeding ground for deception and betrayal. A number of books where marriage is centre-stage have been released in the last few years. The Family, too, is a cauldron for crime, bringing with it abductions, incarcerations, issues with infertility, infidelity and missing children. The home is rife with buried family secrets that come back to haunt us. This sub-genre plays on the idea that the home is the safest place to be – OR IS IT..? Novels I've enjoyed in this genre are Until You’re Mine, by Samantha Hayes and Under your Skin (Sabine Durrant) - not forgetting one of my absolute favourites, Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes.

Chick Noir is defined by Lucie Whitehouse, author of Before We Met, as psychological thrillers which explore the fears and anxieties experienced largely by women. In my view, they often share the ‘chatty prose style’ of chick-lit, but with jeopardy and menace added to the mix. Whitehouse says, “They deal in the dark side of relationships, intimate danger, the idea that you can never really know your husband or partner or that your home and relationship is threatened. In these books, danger sleeps next to you. Marriage is catnip for writers of psychological suspense because it's such a private, intimate relationship.” Before we Met starts with what looks on the surface like the perfect marriage – until the husband fails to turn up at the airport… Liane Moriarty's The Husband's Secret also comes into this sub-genre. This concept isn’t necessarily new - there is a tradition of psychological suspense emerging from the domestic arena involving the secrets and fears concealed in marriages and relationships in novels by Patricia Highsmith, Daphne Du Maurier and even Charlotte Bronte.

My current writing is pulling me towards these 'Noir' genres - almost without realising it. My experience in psychotherapy is all about the unspoken horrors lurking behind the bathroom door and I find myself drawn to it... 

So – what’s next in this set of sub-genres?