- The Roman Noir in Post-War French Culture
The Roman Noir in Post-War French Culture is part of the Oxford University Press's "Studies in European Culture" series. The goal of this series is to present a variety of texts and films pertaining to certain literary or cultural themes with regard to their socio-historical contexts. Furthermore, each study presents a mixture of canonical and less familiar texts. In general, the series hopes to familiarize students of modern languages and those of other intersecting disciplines with contemporary literary currents and their influence on European culture. The present study by Claire Gorrara conforms perfectly to the objectives of the series. Gorrara chooses a variety of authors and one cinematic work to exemplify the breadth and cultural importance of roman noir fiction in the second half of the twentieth century. While she admits that roman noir fiction has been commonly labeled as pulp fiction, she accentuates the cultural importance of the genre in post-war France. In her opinion, the roman noir provides a way of expressing social fears and of reevaluating the fractures in French national identity throughout the post-war years. To exemplify this cultural influence she chooses a variety of well-known and more obscure authors and texts, all of which were published from the post-war decades through the present.
The text's introduction begins with a description of preceding structuralist analyses of the roman noir. She briefly explains the contents of Todorov's "Typology of Detective Fiction," (The Poetics of Prose [Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977] 42-52) in which he defines three types of detective fiction: the whodunit, the thriller, and the suspense novel. While not rejecting this approach, she provides the counter example of the theorist Lee Horsley's analysis of the noir thriller (The Noir Thriller [Hampshire: Palgrave, 2001]). Horsley views noir fiction as intrinsically related to its cultural and socio-historical surroundings. Gorrara continues by providing the reader with a condensed version of the genealogy of the French roman noir. While the noir series finds its most basic roots in the American detective fiction of the inter-war years, Gorrara maintains that the French genre should not be viewed as a mere mutation of the American trend. Towards the end of the Second World War, Léo Malet published 120, rue de la Gare (1943), which would become the prototype for the French série noire launched in 1945 by Gallimard. Soon after, the fifties ushered in an elevated production of noir films. These presentations expressed a "tone of enraged despair at the human condition" (15) after the great World Wars. The sixties offered little noir production, this trend abruptly ending with the events of May 1968. The noir fiction of the seventies and eighties was known as néo-polar, as it "revolutionized a moribund French detective fiction market by injecting radical political awareness into the classic American roman noir"(15). Subsequently, the roman noir engagé trend commenced in the mid-eighties and continued the active socio-political critique of the néo-polar, designed to undermine the dominant narratives of [End Page 897] those in power. Finally, Gorrara concludes with an exposition of the current trends of noir fiction, which she labels as "the modern-day conscience of the nation."
In keeping with its role as an introductory text, each chapter in this book is organized around the following contents: the social circumstances surrounding the novel, the literary currents acting upon the text, the author's background, the plot summary, and a relation of the work to its extra-literary circumstances. As previously mentioned, Gorrara begins her study of noir fiction with Léo Malet's 120, rue de la Gare (1943). In this chapter Gorrara names Malet the "father of the French roman noir" due to the hybrid nature of this text. She argues that it combines a socio-political critique of American hard-boiled detective fiction with European and French literary and cultural references. Although Malet does not explicitly mention specific political movements or figures...