An Evening of Domestic Thrillers

An Evening of Domestic Thrillers

Event: An Evening of Domestic Thrillers 

Location: Waterstones Piccadilly 

Panel: Melanie McGrath, Jason Starr, Laura Wilson and chair Barry Forshaw 

Report by Eleanor Baggley

I find being in the flagship Waterstones on a weekday evening, when all the crowds have died down, a joy in itself. When that quietly bookish atmosphere is paired with a fascinating exploration into the genre of domestic thrillers, the experience can only get better. As it did on Wednesday evening at an event run by No Exit Press and Waterstones.

Crime writing expert Barry Forshaw chaired the panel of three authors: Melanie McGrath, author of The Bone Seeker; Jason Starr, in London for the European tour of his latest release, Savage Lane; and Laura Wilson, author of Stratton’s War.

What is domestic noir? 

Forshaw began discussions by questioning how the genre itself should be labelled – is it domestic thriller, or is noir a more appropriate term? This query alone started a lively debate between the panelists, all of whom had fascinating insights.

Though the panelists all agreed that domestic noir is certainly more apt than domestic thriller, there was some debate around the birth of the genre itself. The genre may recently have had a sudden surge as a result of Gone Girl‘s popularity, but Starr was quick to point out that authors like Harlan Coben have been writing this kind of fiction since the nineties. Wilson took it a step further and argued that it can be traced as far back as the Victorian Era and Jane Eyre, then on to the thirties and du Maurier’s Rebecca and in to the late fifties with the publication of The Hours Before Dawn by Celia Fremlin. It quickly became apparent that this genre of fiction has been around a lot longer than the recent surge in popularity would suggest.

Regardless of its history, domestic noir is a truly evolving genre. Though many of the basic elements remain the same – damaged relationships and claustrophobic settings – writers move with the times and recognise the power of modern technology, particularly social media, in creating uncanny and sinister situations.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Domestic noir can be traced as far back as ‘Jane Eyre’

Women and violence 

No doubt influenced by the many references to Gone Girl‘s Amy Dunne, the talk soon wound its way to violence, women, and violence against women.

A key component of domestic noir is relatable characters and situations. The uncanny aspects of these novels – both recognising the situation and understanding how it could be a progression from the lives we are leading – are part of their power. Starr describes them as our worst case scenarios. There is the potential for this to become a larger issue which McGrath is quick to point out: ‘the trouble with characters like Amy Dunne is that women are now allowing themselves to relate to their characteristics’, by which she means the rage and vengefulness.

This could be a subject for a talk in itself and led to Wilson revealing a statistic that, in 2011-12 there were 1.2 million female victims of domestic violence, and 800,000 male victims. Although there is still a considerable gap, Wilson was shocked to find it much smaller than she expected. Perhaps this is how the genre will evolve further; perhaps it will move away from the recognisable balance between the withholding male and the vulnerable heroine into different territory.

The discussion itself was not overly long, but they did cover an array of absorbing points. From the history of the genre, to it’s future; from violence against women to violent women; and from an exploration of typical tropes to a look at how social media impacts how domestic noir is both read and written. The evening was then rounded off with two or three thought-provoking questions from the audience. All in all this was a fascinating event and one that has further piqued my interest in such a wide-ranging genre.

By Eleanor Baggley

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