France is the country of honour at this year’s Madrid Book Fair

Since France is the country of honour at this year Madrid Book Fair, I would like to share with you the following information from French Culture, which I found very interesting.

“Roman policier or polar is the French genre concerning narratives that deal with crime and the punishment of criminals. However, historically, the French have had an affinity for the grittier elements of crime fiction. Since Maurice Leblanc’s 1907 “gentleman thief” Arsène Lupin, a Robin Hood character who always got the better of the police, we can observe a kind of reversal of focus from crimes being solved to crime becoming an all-enveloping milieu in which the characters navigate. During the Nazi occupation of France,noir proper was born with Léo Malet’s 120 rue de la Gare.Nestor Burma, a Parisian Phillip Marlowe, exhibited the independence, shadiness, and unconventional ethos that was so typical of American hard-boiled fiction of the time with the unique perspective of the underworld of Vichy Paris (the text itself is still unpublished in English, although a graphic novel titled The Bloody Streets of Paris, by the great Jacques Tardi, does exist). Noir grew to be defined by the cynicism of its main characters, a constant cycle of violence, and the environments of shadowed, urban decay.

As crime fiction developed, its scope widened from the city to the world at large. Today, crime novels have taken on up-to-the-minute issues facing the globalized world. In the wake of proliferation, the need to keep readers enthralled gave rise to the thriller. Usually defined by the intensity of emotion they elicit, thrillers tend to employ fast pacing, tension, uncertainty, anticipation, terror and excitement to stimulate the reader’s moods. In other words, the thriller is a direct appeal to both the senses and emotions of the reader. The reader can expect twists, reversals, and a constant threat of collapse. Often the protagonist faces an impending disaster (terrorist attack, finding the antidote, etc.). With malleable definitions, it should come as no surprise when Franck Thilliez calls the polar a “super-genre” with an ever growing set of categories and vantages.

French variants include the previously mentioned roman noir,instantly recognizable as a result of its heavily stylized use of atmosphere and emotional detachment (Marcus Malte is a quintessential stylist), and the roman social, which deals with contemporary social, economic, moral, and political issues against the backdrop of injustice (Dominique Manotti’s Bien connu des services de police and Marin Ledun’s sociopolitical L’Homme qui a vu l’homme are top examples alongside Didier Daeninckx). The roman policier politique takes similar social issues and ups the stakes by focusing on politics from the top down, taking special interest in the mechanisms of state power and corruption as well as outside power struggles stemming from terrorism (DOA’s Citoyens clandestins and Saturne by Serge Quadruppani both typify the intensity of this subgenre). The roman policier historique incorporates real or imagined historical intrigue, with many contemporary writers finding source material from World War II (Après la guerre by Hervé Le Corre) and the Algerian War. Voyageur writers add exoticism to the genre by bringing readers to far-off lands and unfamiliar cultures (Zulu and Mapuche by Caryl Férey take us away from the European/American comfort zone, likewise with Ian Manook’s Yeruldelgger). As with many genres, a capacity for self-deprecation finds itself in the humour noir, which relies on tropes and absurdity to deliver a humorous, if not critical examination of both the genre and the themes it encapsulates (Jean-Bernard Puoy’s Spinoza encule Hegel is a classic example). For a more detailed history and a list of titles, the Institut français and Quais du polar have assembled a comprehensive overview of the French polar.”

Check out the article in pdf format right here!
And to learn more, don’t miss our list of French crime novels in translation.

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