Monday, July 21, 2014

Noir but not crime: What books make your list?

Louis-Ferdinand Céline's Journey to the End of the Night is no crime novel, but someone once included on a list of great noir novels.  Curzio Malaparte's The Skin and Kaputt may deserve similar honors.

The shocking, lyrical, satirical, violent, funny novel/memoir/at times near-hallucinatory accounts of World War II (the first set largely in Naples, the second mostly in Eastern Europe) are a trip through a reality as dark as anything Jim Thompson came up with at his most fevered.

How about you? What books or stories that you've read are noir but not crime?

© Peter Rozovsky 2014

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27 Comments:

Blogger Scott Adlerberg said...

Notes from the Underground.

Perhaps Kafka's The Trial.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll buy both, though one might argue that "The Trial" is a crime story, though no one knows what the crime is.

July 21, 2014  
Anonymous Marina Sofia said...

Most of Pascal Garnier's novels are noir... occasionally there are some murders, but it's not really crime fiction. Also 'The Plague' by Camus - although it could be argued that it's ultimately hopeful about human solidarity.

July 21, 2014  
OpenID jiescribano said...

Maybe Georges Simenon and his romans durs, can qualify Peter.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Paul D. Brazill said...

The Fall is noir : http://pauldbrazill.com/2012/09/23/the-fall-by-albert-camus/

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Michael S. Chong said...

These novels are noir to me:

The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

1984 by George Orwell

July 21, 2014  
OpenID mikecane said...

Lee, by Tito Perdue

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Johnny Shaw said...

Definitely agree on They Shoot Horses by McCoy.

I would add:

Fat City by Leonard Gardner

Le Salaire de la Peur by Georges Arnaud

Wiseblood by Flannery O'Connor

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Marina, I have two of Pascal Garnier’s novels on my list. I have not yet read them, but I am surprised to learn you not quite think of them as crime fiction. The publicist who works with him, for instance, works with quote a number of crime-fiction clients.

As to hope about the human condition as an antithesis to noir, some noir can and does have a happy ending, of a kind. Think of David Goodis’ Cassidy’s Girl or “Black Friday.” Come to think of it, not everything he wrote was exactly crime fiction, either.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

José María, I haven't read any of the romans durs, but I have no trouble believing from what I know of them that they could be noir. One finds noir-like aspects to some of Simenon's other non-Maigret stories, as well.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Paul, Camus and crime have come up several times at Detectives Beyond Borders, including here and here.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Patrick Murtha said...

The Camus citations underline the fact that there is inevitably a considerable overlap between noir fiction and existential fiction. Right in that sweet spot is Donald Westlake's Memory, which to my way of thinking is one of the greatest novels in BOTH categories, and which, but for the intervention of Lawrence Block after Westlake's death, none of us might ever have gotten a chance to read. It is beyond belief that the publishers that Westlake submitted his manuscript to in the Sixties could have turned it down, its quality is SO high, but that is what happened, and it serves as a reminder (as the publication history of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces does also) that there are many contingencies involved in the simple-but-huge issue of what books we even get to see.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

Zola's L'ASSOMMOIR. Good God, it's bleak. If noir is losers losing, then it qualifies in spades.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Michael Chong: Yes on West, Didion, and Orwell. One is so accustomed to thinking of McCoy as a crime crime writer that it's almost surprising to be reminded that "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" isn't. McCoy did write for Black Mask, though.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger RT said...

Of course, anything and everything by Kafka. I might even be persuaded to describe Philip K. Dick as noir.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mike, I had not heard of Tito Perdue before. Thanks. Crime fiction conventions tend to include Southern noir panels these days, so perhaps he'll reach a wider audience among crime readers.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., some people do consider Philip K. Dick noir. Adrian McKinty recently posted a list of his favorite films noirs, and Blade Runner was on it.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Patrick / Kelly: There is considerable overlap between noir and existentialism and also some between noir and naturalism. Keeo this sort of thing going too long, and we're apt to start asking "what is noir?"

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, do a search on this blog, and you'll find a post titled "Émile Zola: Precursor to crime?"

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Dan_Luft said...

The Clown was the only novel I read by Heinrich Boll and had a real feel of desperation. Same thing with Sofia Petrovna by Lydia Chukovskaya, though that one was a family's reaction to state crimes under Stalin.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The idea for a noir-but-not-crime panel at a convention is taking shape, Introduce readers to writers new them, get people thinking about noir and why they like it. I volunteer to act as moderator.

July 21, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Luftmensch, you've added to my list. I had not even heard of Sofia Petrovna.

July 22, 2014  
Blogger Keishon said...

Would Ken Nunn's Tapping the Source fit? It's self-described as surfing noir. I loved it. Also, Cockfighter by Charles Willeford. Another excellent noir novel.

July 22, 2014  
OpenID jiescribano said...

Purge by Sofi Oksanen has spring to my mind as a pontential candidate

July 22, 2014  
Blogger Dan_Luft said...

It is also known as The Empty House. Very desperate book and about the length of a GM thrler. Dark, dark ending.

July 22, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Keishon, WIlleford is a good addition to this list. Everyone thinks of him a crime writer, but The Shark-Infested Custard, to name one, is not really a crime story, either. Nunn is much-respected among crime readers, but I'll have to overcome a prejudice against surfing before I read him.

July 22, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Jose Maria and Dan: My next mental exercise is to try to figure out t what extent desperation is integral to noir. Thanks for the suggested titles.

July 22, 2014  

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