RARA-AVIS: Humor and irony in noir

From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 21 Oct 2004

Karin Montin wrote:

Whereas humour is commonly held to be a redeeming feature of either the noir hero or the noir book. That's what I learned from a panel at Bouchercon.

************* Humor has been a frequent element in noir since its inception. It comes in several flavors. Although it can be of a bawdy nature like the funeral scene in Faulkner's SANCTUARY, more often it emanates from a cruel irony that seals the fate of a doomed protagonist. After escaping a bona fide murder rap, Frank's murder conviction for Cora's accidental death in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE is a good example. So is Stanton Carlisle's eventual demotion to the job title that he so openly despises at the beginning of NIGHTMARE ALLEY.

It has been suggested that literature sporting irony is more sophisticated than works lacking it. I'm not sure if I agree with this or not. I sorta lean towards thinking that irony is simply another literary device in an author's bag of tricks, but I definitely find irony in noir aesthetically satisfying and downright entertaining.

Charles Willeford did more for noir humor than any other writer I have read.


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