By Russel D McLean
I have a thing against the phrase “tartan noir”. Truly, it rankles with me even if I have occasionally used it in my “other” job as shorthand, I think it’s a pretty odd description to use for a genre that is far more than noir - - in fact, Scottish crime may include some of the maost varied writers and styles to ever be gathered from one particular country (running the gamut from MC Beaton through to, yes, Irvine Welsh who has strayed into the crime genre whether he wants to admit it or not).
So when Audrey (also known as Oddmonstr, for reasons I couldn’t possibly tell you) asked me on twitter to write about,
The new sub-sub-sub-genre splitting of noir: geographic noir, discount noir, cat noir, dog noir...
My thoughts turned to how I feel about the tartan noir tag and how sometimes I think we can get caught up in trying to compartmentalise writing when really, we should just be enjoying it. After all, I think its useful to distinguish genre to a certain degree and within genre there are always going to be subset genres because, well, that’s the way it works and the way the human brain naturally tries to rationalise the world. But sometimes we can go too far so that things become ridiculous. Especially when much of the time we have trouble enough defining the larger edges of a genre. Noir is a particularly good example because no two writers – even those considered noir writers – can agree on what exactly noir is (often other than defining what its not*).
It’s a very personal thing and that just makes any sub genre splitting even more insane.
That said much of the splitting is done in the name of marketing. Akashic’s “geographic” noir is a great hook for a fine series of anthologies**and of course I’m proud to have contributed to the second volume of Geezer noir in Damn Near Dead 2 – an anthology you must and shall read right now. Simply by adding X noir to a title you get an immediate feel for what a piece of work should be like.
That said, I think it can all get a bit much and pretty soon we’re going to get round to a suggestion I once heard from the author John Rickards of “Toff Noir”*** Which leads me to wonder whether all this sub sub sub splitting of a genre can lead to the impact of the genre’s overall tag being somehow diminished.
And in the end, as we struggle to categorise and contain a story with a genre, a sub genre, a sub sub genre and so forth, I have to wonder if we being to lose sight of what is important in the first place:
Because I don’t care about your genre. I don’t care about your sub genre. I just care if you sweep me away, make me care, make me feel, make me believe in your story.
This week's post was written at the suggestion of a follower on twitter. It was fun to think about something unexpected. So tell you what, let's do this again for next week. If you're on twitter, tweet your suggested topic/question for next week's column @russeldmclean with the hashtag #surprisefriday and I'll get one of my fellow DSDers to pick the winner out of a hat before I write the next column.
*I can’t stop thinking of my favourite ever definition of “cat” as being “not a dog.” Which I’m pretty sure is a Blackadder gag but feel free to correct me if its not.
**although one can still make the argument for exactly how many of the stories are actually “noir”.
***I say, Jeeves, that fellow’s skull just exploded when I blasted him at point blank range with the blunderbuss!