While domestic noir is a category that’s fairly new to the noir family, it’s a trending topic and the books are selling like hot cakes.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train and Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena (Canadian author), The Widow and The Child by Fiona Barton, The Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips, The Lying Game by Ruth Ware, The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne and Rosemary McCracken’s Pat Tierney series all fall into this category (Rosemary is a Canadian author). And I’d also add in Linwood Barclay’s long list of bestselling novels (Linwood is also a Canadian author).
I’m not quite sure how happy these writers are, to be categorized in this way but they must be delighted with the level of success – these books are selling like crazy.
Is it the voyeuristic peek into the chaos of other people’s apparently perfect lives that readers love? Or is it the ‘it could happen to me’ scenario which causes all kinds of chills of delight? Will this ordinary guy or gal make it out of this terrifying situation, while the baby chortles and gurgles and latches on to breastfeed?
Maybe it's the primal instinct of maternal and paternal protection of the offspring at all costs that keeps readers enthralled? If you think about it, many noir novels and films are based on domestic noir scenarios. I'm not quite sure how happy Stephen King would be, to have The Shining tagged as domestic noir but really, it could be!
The Quill & Quire had this to say about Shari Lapena’s sophomore novel, A Stranger in The House: “As in many of the best thrillers and mysteries, the greatest threat to the peace of the characters in A Stranger in the House is the truth: the revelation of who the characters truly are, and what they’ve done. In the book, told in Lapena’s breathless present-tense prose, husband and wife Tom and Karen Krupp confront how little they know each other – and especially how little they know of each others’ pasts – in the wake of a car accident and the appearance of a murder victim across town. As the police tease out connections between Karen’s driving mishap and this dead John Doe, unsettling things begin happening in the couple’s home, starting with objects seeming to move when no one is in the room.”
Shari Lapena’s first book, The Couple Next Door, was Canada’s bestselling book of 2016, so clearly the domestic noir formula is working and I asked some of the authors for their thoughts on this categorization, and how they see their work within that context:
When asked how he felt about being King of Domestic Noir, Linwood Barclay commented “it beats working in a bank”, but he added “I never set out to write so-called domestic noir or suspense. I just wanted to write thrillers based in the world I know and live in, that readers would find familiar and believable. The labels came later.”
Shari Lapena said: “Domestic noir—suspenseful, psychological novels about modern, twisted relationships—is definitely having a moment, in terms of its popularity with readers and in terms of the number of writers writing it. I would put my first two thrillers, The Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the House, firmly within that genre. Domestic suspense is not new—Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier for instance is an excellent example of the genre. But why the appeal now? That’s the question everybody’s asking. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl modernized domestic suspense and made it edgier, more noir, and now a lot of writers are exploring the darker, more menacing side of relationships and domestic situations and doing an excellent job of it. Readers seem to want to look behind the closed doors to see what’s going on inside the dysfunctional home, the dysfunctional relationship, and ultimately, the dysfunctional mind.”
Karen Dionne, of The Marsh King’s Daughter, said this: “Domestic suspense, or more broadly, psychological suspense, is a subgenre that's exploded in recent years, and its popularity doesn't show any signs of abating. Led by runaway hits like Gone Girl and The Girl on The Train, these novels hit home—often quite literally. After all, if the people we trust turn out not to be trustworthy, then it doesn't matter what's happening in the larger world; our worlds have been turned upside down. For me, there's nothing more frightening!”
Rosemary McCracken commented that “it’s part of who my women (and male too) characters are. Women and women characters can’t get away from the domestic...it’s part of our upbringing, maybe even in our genes. But there are all sorts of possibilities within and with ties to the family setting.
And Joe Kertes, Retired Dean of Creative and Performing Arts at the Humber Lakeshore Campus sums it up: “Domestic noir has taken off, to be sure. Its success must have to do with the darkest battleground of the heart: the home, the bedroom, the heart, all of it rich in dark potential.”
Time will tell whether this genre has staying power but one thing is for sure, it’s the trend du jour. And I'd love to hear what readers have to say - is it 'real' noir - and, is it a passing fad or here to stay?
Lisa de Nikolits
(Images, The Shining @instagram and author's own)
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has been a Canadian citizen since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived in the U.S.A., Australia, and Britain. She is the author of seven acclaimed novels, including her most recent novel, No Fury Like That (Inanna Publications). She has won the IPPY Gold Medal for Women's Issues Fiction and was long-listed for the ReLit Award. Lisa has a short story in Postscripts To Darkness (2015), a short story in the anthology Thirteen O'Clock by the Mesdames of Mayhem, and flash fiction and a short story in the debut issue of Maud.Lin House.