Holiday Noir with Anabelle Thorpe
Holiday Noir: The Alternative Summer Read
Annabelle Thorpe introduces us to a new kind of holiday reading
“It’s that time of year again; suitcases are out, suntan lotion is bought and the ‘best holiday reads’ is the big topic for book-lovers. Classic poolside reads are often set in Tuscany, Provence or Cornwall – light family sagas and happy-ever-after romances. But what if you fancy something a little different – maybe a little darker? Time, perhaps, to dip into some ‘holiday noir’.
‘Holiday Noir’ is one of those genres people think they’ve never heard of, when actually they’re probably already a fan. If you enjoyed The Talented Mr Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith, The Beach by Alex Garland or Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald, then you’re already well-versed in the world of holiday noir.
It’s a term I stumbled across, when trying to define my second novel, What Lies Within. Set in Morocco, it certainly isn’t a romance, although it involves love affairs, and it’s arguably not a thriller, although there is a murder. It’s not a whodunit, although the reader will wonder who did ‘it’ (and, at times, exactly what ‘it’ is).
Instead it looks at what can happen to both individuals and relationships when we move from a familiar, understood world to one where the boundaries, expectations and parameters are all unfamiliar. I’m fortunate enough to travel for my job, and have long been fascinated by the freedom that travelling affords me; to be a slightly different version of myself, to shake off some of the expectations and perceptions from home and slip on another skin.
I’m far from the first writer who wants to put this into fiction. Fitzgerald’s iconic Tender is the Night is, at heart, the study of a disintegrating relationship, made all the more discomforting by being far from home. The Talented Mr Ripley explores how our judgement and perceptions can become increasingly clouded when we are away from the familiar. In The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles takes the same mystical, enigmatic country that fascinates me – Morocco, and charts the slow fracturing of his characters as the unknown – and unfathomable – desert strips them of every belief they have.
The beauty of holiday noir is that explores the feelings many of us experience when we travel, but rarely admit to. We talk about holidays being relaxing and restorative, but usually don’t mention the moments when we felt a little unsettled or unsure. And while we are navigating a new, unfamiliar place there are relationships to maintain – whether we are travelling with a partner, friends or family. Time away is often cherished as space to rebuild and restore relationships, but it can also shine a light on hidden, deep-seated issues. People often travel to escape their problems, only to find them stowed in their luggage, alongside the swimwear and suncream.
In What Lies Within, I wanted to explore the impact of place and a changed reality on the longstanding relationships between married couple Paul and Freya, and their university friend, Hamad . What complicates these relationships is an existing imbalance; Paul and Freya are British, Hamad is Qatari, and hugely wealthy. These differences, which the three have managed to accommodate and overcome in their lives in England, rise to the surface in new and unexpected ways in the changed social climate of Morocco.
One of the things I enjoyed most whilst writing What Lies Within was the chance to depict Marrakech as it really is; exotic, challenging, alien and utterly ‘other’. Because ‘holiday noir’ novels tend to be darker, they also tend to draw a more honest picture of the location in which they are set – the good and the bad, the pleasing and the daunting. For Freya, the exoticism of Marrakech is a challenge to be enjoyed; for Paul, it is more daunting.
As a genre, ‘holiday noir’ is increasingly timely; in recent years travel has become far more experiential; instead of lazing on sunloungers, we want to explore the country we are visiting, meet locals, understand the culture. So too with travelling on the page; readers want reality as well as the fantasy, a sense of being plunged into an unfamiliar, fascinating world, where nothing is quite what they expect.
Classic holiday reads are popular because they offer wonderful escapism, and who doesn’t want a good dollop of that when they’re lying by a pool? But the reality is that travel isn’t always the idyll the holiday websites and brochure covers make out. Challenging, stimulating and even life-changing, it’s only when we are away from everything we know, that we truly find out who we are. This is what ‘holiday noir’ novels set out to explore; the fundamental difference between the person we are when we are surrounded by the familiar, and who we might become, when everything we know is stripped away.
Many thanks Annabelle and happy paperback pulication day!