Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bearded Noir?

Mes Amis

Is Stuart MacBride noir?

Its a question I promised to answer. Its a question I should have answered. But I got sidetracked. After all, being a very busy badger sometimes things get in the way.

But we're back to answer the question.

The answer is no.

And that's not to say that ol' MacBeard isn't dark. He has horrible things happen to his characters. People get punished physically. Terrible people commit terrible crimes. But its not noir.

Because what is lacking is the spectre of death. What is lacking is a certain tone.

And that's the trouble with defining noir; more often that not its down to a feeling; a general, overall impression of death rather than any death in and of itself. After all if death was all it really took then Midsummer Murders would be noir as hell (after all, an entire village of murderers is pretty damn bleak).

MacBride's debut, Cold Granite, is hardly a walk in the park. I mean, there are peadophiles, hard bastard gangsters and even worse there are Aberdonians*. There is a spectre of violence. There is a palpable sense of death. And yet it is not pervading. You know that the good guys will out - even in a bittersweet fashion - by the end of the book. MacBride's world is ordered. Evil is punished, even if good is sometimes sacrificed in order to achieve this end. There is a palpable tragedy, of course, but it is not a noir tragedy. It shows that MacBride's world is often an unfair place but it does not mean that it is irredeemable.

Noir is about the sense that the world is screwed. The world is irredeemably messed up. This does not mean that every character iser a glue sniffing, badger-fucking asshole who never connected with his mother and has a terrible, life-destroying addiction to eating Pop Tarts off the stomach of large breasted, wrinkly-faced Fintry** Prostitutes. Rather its about the fact that characters can strive and hope and wish and never quite get what they want. The world plays tricks on our characters, blinds them, screws with them so completely that we have to wonder what it was that gave them hope in the first place. Not to say that there is no hope, but rather that the hope is such a distant, alien thing that it may as well be some hallucination on the part of the character.

So what is MacBeard, then? Is he hardboiled, perhaps? He could well be. But even then I'm not sure. One thing is certain. He is not the "murder equivalent of chick lit" (to quote the man himself). He's a damn fine crime writer. But he's not noir.

Not that he needs to be, either. While I love my noir, its not the be all and end all of crime fiction. One of my frequent defences of crime is that "it can do everything that literature can do, but because its all about conflict - in the most tense of fashions - it often manages to do so in a far more entertaining fashion"***. Worrying about whether something is noir or cosy or a thriller or even whether it qualifies as a crime novel isn't the point. The point isn't whether its a good novel.

And while its not noir, Cold Granite is a good novel.

Au revoir


*I'm sorry, but it was too obvious a dig to miss - Aberdonians are lovely people. Fit, like. And so forth.

**Nothing against people from Fintry either. But I had to choose somewhere.

***Or words to that effect.


Gary Smith said...

After your sarcastic comments about my proofreading skills I was delighted to find that this post contained a number of entertaining spelling mistakes. Keep up the good work!

Russel said...

Ahhh but are they mistakes?
Are they?

Only I know for sure...

Jennifer Jordan said...

Russ-poo, I think only Bruen can do all caps, have odd spellings and use a plethora of exclamation points and call it a style.

And don't blame the evil twin, either. He may be nasty but he's one hell of a good speller.

Stuart MacBride said...

Cool, I knew I was too pretty to be noir!

Ray of hopeful sinshine* – that's me.

* to go with the general proofreading / spelling theme of the comments ;}#

Vincent said...

I'm confused. Was this post on whether MacBride is noir or whether Cold Granite is noir?

With the various stories and scripts I've written, I've delved into sci-fi, fantasy, drama, comedy, horror and, recently, crime (albeit with a supernatural twist). I'm not noir, but that last screenplay might have been.

Okay, Cold Granite doesn't fit the bill then, but that doesn't preclude this MacBride character doesn't carrying 'a general, overall impression of death' that would mark him out as noir.

Though can't say I noticed one when I infiltrated the Harrogate Crime Festival, but frankly I was too busy trying to keep up with all the badger talk (most certainly not noir).

Russel said...

Because Cold Granite represents my main exposure to Stuart's style to date, I have tended to use the two interchangeably. I do believe it is represenative of his work to day, but I do not rule out the fact he may turn to noir - however briefly - at some other date.

Vincent said...

I think I was alluding that there was a difference between a novel that was noir and a character (real or otherwise) who could be noir.

I mean, if you took Sam Spade out of The Maltese Falcon and stuck him in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy might get home, the scarecrow might still win a heart, but Sam Spade is still going to be up to his chin in murderous munchkins.

Ray said...

But unless Spade gets his arse kicked - maybe a sharp boot to the side of the head makes him lose all feeling in his left side before he heads into either death or madness - then it still ain't noir.