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Going going Gone Girl… Is ‘Chick Noir’ becoming the new ‘Chick Lit’?

For Lovereading by author Lucy Atkins

lucy-atkins_300At last week’s Oxford Literary Festival I took the stage with writer and columnist India Knight to discuss publishing’s latest phenomenon: ‘Chick noir (Why Gone Girl has us hooked)’.

The event was a sell-out. ‘Chick Noir’ may be a ridiculous label for psychological suspense novels marketed heavily at women, but something is definitely going on here  – and the audience wanted to know why.

Unsettling novels like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep, The Silent Wife by A S A Harrison, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty or Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard are currently dominating the bestseller charts. The movie of Gone Girl, about lies and danger in a marriage, will be released this October, starring Ben Affleck and Rosalind Pike. Before I Go To Sleep, about a wife suffering scary memory loss, is also currently being made into a film starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth. ‘Chick Noir’ in other words, is big business.  My own novel, The Missing One, about a mother’s secrets and a toddler in jeopardy, hit the UK paperback fiction bestseller chart at number 11  – pretty unusual for a non-celebrity debut, and this week one publisher, Mantle, shelled out a six figure sum for a suspense novel about a toxic marriage by the relatively unknown writer Rebecca Whitney.

Instead of serial killers and dismembered corpses, these books place the threat firmly inside the home, with disintegrating marriages, sinister spouses, threatened children, and dark emotional secrets. And the good ones have it all – suspense, intelligent plotting, great writing, deep emotion, with no soft-focus endings. Like popular ‘Nordic Noir’ TV shows (The Killing, or The Bridge) they also have tough, clever, resourceful female characters.

It’s possible that all this is reflecting a deeper unease in society. With our smartphones pumping atrocities and terrorist threats into our homes 24/7, along with the soaring divorce rate and a global recession, perhaps nothing really feels safe any more… Or maybe it’s just that we love to be scared – from the safety of our sofa.


THE-MISSING-ONE-400Whatever the reason, one thing’s clear: ‘Chick noir’ is a daft label. These are intelligent and well-written books: Gone Girl was even shortlisted for the prestigious Orange Prize. Many readers are male, and as for the ‘chick’ bit, SJ Watson, is – whisper it – a man. It’s also a trend with impressive origins: think Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, or Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

The Oxford literary festival audience agreed that – call it what you will  – this reading trend is great news: it shows there’s a huge hunger for powerful books with great plots (Gone Girl has so far sold 2 million copies world-wide).  Whoever said books are dead?

Lucy Atkins is the author of The Missing One (Quercus, 2014)

Twitter: @lucyatkins


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