For those who dare to enter – contemporary Noir and women

Ich liebe es, etwas zum ersten Mal zu machen. Je älter man wird, desto seltener kommt das naturgemäß vor. Heute gleich zwei Premieren in einer: Mein erster original auf Englisch verfasster journalistischer Artikel und meine erste Publikation in einem britischen Medium, dem E-Zine Mystery People – for writers and readers of mystery. In Kooperation mit der Autorinnenvereinigung Mörderische Schwestern gibt es dort allmonatlich Neuigkeiten aus dem deutschsprachigen Raum.

(Besser lesen lässt sich der Text unterhalb der Abbildung)

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“… noir stories are bleak, existential, alienated, pessimistic tales about losers–people who are so morally challenged that they cannot help but bring about their own ruin.” Otto Penzler in his preface to “Best American Noir of the Century”.

Usually Noir fiction is set in big cities, exploring the dark alleys of our society, revealing the abyss full of violence, injustice and fear that looms in the shadows of our way of life. Crime works as a symptom for the derangements of the system. The word noir (black) implies a menacing atmosphere and doesn’t provide white as a contrast. It shades black into an endless variety of greys. Good and bad are intertwined in every character. Even if a story arrives at a happy ending for the protagonist or at the solution of a crime, this outcome is spoiled by the fact that the underlying conditions, which instigate the plot, remain unchanged. Noir, you might say, is literature for those who dare to enter the rooms barely visible through the cracks in the facades society has put up.

In the last years marketing departments of publishing companies have rediscovered Noir as a means of promoting, a label to indicate sophistication, states Sonja Hartl, journalist with expertise in noir literature. “They invented categories like Nordic Noir and Domestic Noir, the inflationary use of the term foiling the purpose to convey quality.

As implied Domestic Noir is set up in private surroundings rather than on the mean streets of the city. Written by women it features female protagonists thus filling a gap in the world of traditional Noir with its hardboiled male detectives. The stories evolve around the dangers lurking in personal relationships and, sadly, the titles often qualify grown women as girls. Reducing women to girls and to the role they play in the domestic sphere and inside a heterosexual relationship, denying them a wider social impact, is conservative and reactionary, claims Hartl. So, despite their dark atmosphere and broken heroines, domestic Noir lacks the sceptical approach toward social conditions that defines Noir.

But, strange as it seems, this very flaw emphasizes one of the dubious mechanisms of the publishing world. Female authors still have a hard time selling novels in which female protagonist demand their share of impact on social and political structures. As a literary agent put it: “This is men’s stuff. I cannot sell this with a female protagonist, written by a woman.

Nowadays a lot of female writers defy this unwritten rule and send out unconventional or deranged female characters to explore the fringes of society while trying to keep a grip on the tasks of female everyday life. Twelve of these daring woman, including me, provided short-stories for an anthology soon to be published in English by Weyward Sisters Publishing, South Carolina. “Like art, love, and pornography, noir is hard to define, but you know it when you see it.” Otto Penzler states in the preface mentioned above. Check out, if you find the noir feeling in The human heart: Short Crime & Noir Fiction by Women Authors in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

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