Editor-in-Chief Alice Graham writes about the new season of You and examines the allure of the Domestic Noir subgenre in 2021.
In recent years, a literary subgenre known as Domestic Noir has read its terrifying little head in the shelves of bookstores worldwide. Domestic Noir fiction tends to encompass writing about the terrorised woman, claustrophobia, coercive control, domestic violence; and eventually, gory retribution.
On an unrelated note, have you watched the new season of You yet?
Historically, authors such as Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie pathed the way for domestic narratives that could be gorgeously gothic, erotic and murderous. But these tropes have found new iterations in the wake of the new millennium. Female-authored, female-centred psychological thrillers began to announce themselves as commercial bestsellers (think girls on trains, girls who are gone, girls with dragon tattoos, etc) and Domestic Noir officially became favoured poolside reading circa 2012.
The suburban housewife’s appetite for bloody revenge was, in essence, the moment.
Domestic Noir then naturally translated to the small screen. It’s not unusual for us to come home from work, flop onto the sofa and beam into our living rooms a nice relaxing story about the staleness of small-town life being torn asunder by brutal and unprecedented murder. It’s a narrative we know and love. Think Twin Peaks, Sharp Objects, Mare of Easttown, PLL. The list goes on.
So this chilly October week, when I can’t open Twitter without being barraged by spoilers and theories about season 3 of You, it seems pertinent to ask how Domestic Noir weighs against the story of Joe and Love.
In episode 3, Joe (the very suave and very evil protagonist, best known for his partiality to a blue baseball cap and chucking anyone who minorly inconveniences him into a glass cage in his basement) gazes menacingly out his window, as he tends to do, at his neighbour whose wife he’s just buried in a forest. Keen at this point to frame the husband, Joe remarks in his contemplative voiceover voice: “It’s domestic noir come to life”.
In a seminal definition of Domestic Noir, Julia Crouch asserted that the subgenre “takes as its base a broadly feminist view that the domestic sphere is a challenging and sometimes dangerous prospect for its inhabitants.”
Seeing as Love takes it upon herself to (as any sane person would do) immediately murder Natalie with an axe, yes, you could say that the domestic sphere is ‘challenging’ for her.
The lifeless suburban universe we are sold in episode 1 is thrown into chaos at this point. In fact, episode titles escalate from ‘And They Lived Happily Ever After’ to ‘So I Married an Axe Murderer’ in a matter of 50 minutes.
The show is currently rated number 1 on Netflix in the UK, so the viewership statistics speak for themselves. We love a murderous housewife. But why is it that we’re so drawn to this unhinged, erratic vengeance?
After 17 months of covid restrictions and lockdowns, 17 months of being smothered by our own domestic spheres, is it any wonder we have so keenly indulged such dark domestic fantasies?
Season 3 of You breathes life into our fantasies of unbridled rage against monotony. It promises that, with a sprinkling of sociopathy, the ordinary can become exhilarating and gruesome and ugly. This is the magnetism of Domestic Noir in 2021.
Words by Alice Graham