THIS Icelandic journey into the dark side sparked something of a defining moment. Or, more precisely, a desire to have something defined.
Better than that, a search for the definition of a definition; one that entailed going beyond the resources of the OED or Mr Google.
The puzzle centres on the proliferation of genres, sub-genres and even sub-sub-genres used to categorise published works of fiction and non-fiction.
Among them is one that has reached cliche status due to its excessive use by publishers, promoters, advertisers, reviewers and even writers themselves.
Noir has become the suffix of choice for almost every crime or mystery book published in that small corner of the globe collectively known as Scandinavia.
Regardless of any other possible description, they are unfailingly described as Scandi noir.
Why? It is meaningless. Unnecessary.
For the non-linguists out there, noir is simply the French word for black. Or, by extension, dark.
Its use is no more than a publicist’s trip into the bleeding obvious. The vast majority of crime fiction is surely an imagined excursion into the dark side of human nature?
Thus this tag not only borders on tautology but is also a senseless mash-up of languages.
It first came into prominence with the tedious Steig Larsson opus, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was probably the book world’s earliest use of Scandi noir as a glib descriptive. Everything went downhill from there. Almost any work emanating from the Nordic countries was henceforth similarly described.
And here is where I remain puzzled. And seek definition.
Why is crime fiction from one small (and non-French) corner of the world relentlessly described by a French word while excursions into the dark side from most other regions go label free? Listings are aflood with Scandinavian mysteries stuck with the noir tag yet similarly dark tales from the rest of the world are left undefined
Rarely does one see books described, for example, as Italian noir, Chinese noir, or Canadian noir.
Settings have become as important as the plot. Location provides cause and effect for the protagonists in so many modern crime novels. Think Jimmy Perez and Shetland, Rebus and Edinburgh. Mma Ramposa and Botswana, Montalbano and Sicily, Brunetti and Venice, Maigret and Paris … and on and on. None need the nudge-nudge wink-wink spur of an additional tag, least of all one as ridiculous as noir.
Maybe the intention is to highlight the deep darkness of those ice cold winter days when the sun never rises. There can be little other reason for such a superfluous label.
Such thoughts and the quest for a definition came to the fore when reading The Absolution, the latest absorbing tale by Yrsa Sigurdardottir. It is certainly dark in subject and deeds. But no more so than numerous other grim tales in the crime fiction category.
The pervading and timely theme is bullying, especially among the young. Riding shotgun is the way technology has been distorted and perverted by youthful users. The bullies and the bullied are enmeshed in apps purported to be fun and friendly.
Sigurdardottir’s evildoer is as much the social media app Snapchat as those who use it. Her teenage cliques twist it to their own evil ends by using it to drive their targets to suicide. The malevolence multiplies when adults begin opening false accounts, warping messages and hacking into phones to lay false trails.
As the death count (and mutilations) mount it is soon apparent that in the wrong hands the app is far from what its creators market as a door into fun-filled world.