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chick noir

noun [uncountable]

a style of literature written for women which has a crime or other serious and compelling theme

'The book, published on January 16, is the latest example of a new genre that publishers are calling chick noir – no pink jackets, no happily-ever-after endings, just chilling narratives charting the breakdown of domestic intimacy and trust.'

The Telegraph 16th January 2014

E. L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey was one of the most-read novels of 2012, outstripping the likes of Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code in paperback sales, and breathing life into a literary genre dubbed mummy porn. In 2014, however, it seems that sexual tension is being eclipsed by criminal investigation, as the female readership buy into the latest literary sensation – a style of writing now known as chick noir.

though chick noir typically features a domestic setting, its themes are far from trivial, and can often be pretty violent and macabre

The expression chick noir describes a type of novel which usually has a female author, features strong female protagonists and is written with women as its target audience, but unlike the classically 'girlie' topics of love, romance and domestic humour, focuses on 'dark' themes – betrayal, murder, and even horror. This is a new wave of writing in which there's no happy ending, child-rearing or emotional journey of unrequited love, but rather crime, mystery, plot twists and intrigue – psychological thrillers in the truest sense. These stories are typically nestled between book covers which have swapped pastels, ethereal decoration and dreamy window-gazers for black, broken glass, and the faces of petrified females. Predictably, and in true 'chick' style, these stories usually have some kind of relationship at their core, and for this reason are sometimes described as marriage thrillers, often based on the idea that those closest to us might be harbouring dark and unpleasant secrets. Though chick noir typically features a domestic setting, its themes are far from trivial, and can often be pretty violent and macabre, an extreme example being author Natalie Young's Season to Taste (Tinder Press, 2014), a stomach-churning novel about Lizzie, a middle-aged woman who murders her husband, bags the body parts and stores them in the freezer (subtitled or How to Eat your Husband!).

Publishers have suggested that the phenomenal success of chick noir, often more formally described as female noir, marks a seminal moment in fiction – a shift in popularity away from conventional chick lit (think Bridget Jones's Diary) towards novels with dark, serious themes.

Background – chick noir

The expression chick noir takes inspiration from the earlier term chick lit, which first appeared in the early nineties to describe a genre of novels designed to appeal to women, usually written by women and with female protagonists. The male equivalent is lad lit, and there have been further spin-offs too, such as gran lit for older female readers. Chick flick is the popular term for chick lit's movie counterpart.

The word noir relates to a type of film or literature in which strong, sometimes violent characters are involved in mysterious and/or criminal events. It often stands as an abbreviated reference to film noir, a cinematic genre of crime drama which dates back to the 1940s. The term is a translation of French 'black film' and its coinage is often attributed to Nino Frank, a French film critic active in the 1930s and 40s.

On a similar theme, Nordic noir is a term now sometimes used to describe an increasingly popular genre of crime fiction emanating from Scandinavia, which has a realistic style and a characteristically dark, morally complex mood. Examples include Stieg Larsson's novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and a number of Danish/Swedish television dramas such as The Killing or The Bridge, sometimes popularly described as Scandi dramas.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 5th August 2014.

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