Monday, February 4, 2013

Crime noir throws light on changing world

Book Review
World Noir: Essays, Interviews, Short Fiction and More
On Sale Date: January 3, 2013
9781609451318, 1609451317
Paperback / softback

Fans of the brand of fiction known as noir crime will know the difference between this darker side of the crime genre and the general crime version. For others, it may come as a surprise to realise that the noir crime fiction story is less than 100 years old, and in some areas of the world is barely out of its childhood.
The World Noir Reader is fertile ground for learning more about the noir brand of writing, particularly for those with a liking for the Mediterranean branch. This edition continues on the work done in a publication seven years ago ‘Black and Blue: An Introduction to Mediterranean Noir’, updating and expanding on articles published previously.
The Preface makes the note just how much the world has changed in the relatively short time since the earlier book was published – the global economic collapse, Wall Street, New York and other locations being ‘occupied’, the Arab Spring, the death of Osama bin Laden and so one changing the global social, political and criminal landscape.
But have these changes been fully explained by so-called experts and their story addicted media cousins? And, where does Mediterranean noir sit in this discussion?
The writers argue that the noir version of crime fiction is ideally placed to portray the real impact of recent world events on the socio, economic and political scene. Crime, and the criminal gangs at its heart, have changed and so, therefore, must and/have the stories.
The World Noir Reader gathers ‘a number of short articles, essays, and tributes dealing with the topic of international crime fiction in the hope that these writings will bring readers closer to the many important authors whose works have shaped the genre, or are in the process of doing so…’
In particular, the book pays tribute to the influence of Jean-Claude Izzo, who died in 2000, but whose ‘literature of truth’ is being carried forward by authors across the globe who shed a “small redemptive light’ on what it describes as the ‘few small gears that turn for good, not evil’.
At the heart of the noir genre is usually a police officer or some other official or writer – the ‘small gear’ – struggling to uncover the truth of a crime against the forces of global crime gangs inter-twined with a corrupt, or increasingly corrupt society. The stories often reveal the process by which corruption occurs and the speed at which this illness can grip and cripple a society.
We might think some of these truths are self-evident, but the benefit of this collection is to divert the reader away from the attractions of straight out gruesome crime stories to those which can help us better understand and more intelligently discuss the basis of changes in our, global, society.
The struggle to bring such elements into the fictional arena is highlighted by a section dubbed ‘A History of Mediterranean Noir’ by Sandro Ferri (translated from the Italian by Michael Reynolds). The writer makes the point that although we may think this region has a rich history in noir fiction, it is in fact something of a newcomer with most focus being on its birthplace in America, and Northern Europe.
Yet the writer also notes that the Mediterranean Noir novel’s origins go back to when ‘a man first murdered his brother somewhere on the shores of this sea’. However, somewhere through the ages, noir stumbled as a method of conveying the region’s stories. So for more than 2000 years, there was not a single literary movement that stressed this dark side, this emphasis on the violent and tragic nature of Mediterranean life.
The noir fiction’s typical environment was reflective of social conditions not those of the Mediterranean, being set in largely cities, so the new version has increasingly reflected the character of ports, travellers, mariners and the great movement of people across the region.
For readers, and writers, elsewhere in the world, the book and the focus on the Mediterranean offers a great lesson in how such work should (or could) reflect more greatly on authors’ immediate environments. Crime and its implications are worldwide, but the impact on our societies may differ.
Noir offers writers with a method through which to address not only the changes impacting their societies but also the more troubling elements of crime they generate.
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