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Dark Hallway

Literary Noir

July 2006

Over dinner with friends recently, the conversation gravitated to great literary noir novels - those stories in which you don't know whether to love or hate the protagonist.

"Like high art," James Sallis writes, "these stories...unfold the lies society tells us and the lies we tell ourselves."

"The term was coined by postwar French film critics as film noir (black film) to describe the sort of movie characterized by dark photography and a despairing, doom-laden sense of life.  Scholars of the mystery story found it convenient to use the term for work that shared the same attitude...Typical themes in noir work include obsessive love (or hate, or both), amnesia, illness, betrayal, and man-as-the-plaything of fate" DeAndrea, William L. Encyclopedia Mysteriosa

The main things to consider when reading literary noir are: the shifting roles of the protagonist; the ill-fated relationship between the protagonist and society (generating the themes of alienation and entrapment); and the ways in which noir functions as a socio-political critique.

But please don't be put off by this scholarly talk.  Escape with Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, Ernest Hemingway and many more and lose yourself in these classic literary noir novels.

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List Created By

Arlene Sahraie

Library Services Director, BCCLS


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