The Menace of Intimacy: Domestic Noir, Feminist Criminology, and Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident

Abstract

Viewed through the lens of feminist criminology, how does the subgenre of domestic noir dramatise domestic violence through generic or subversive elements of craft? Drew Humphries asserts that feminist criminology has challenged, reframed and improved legal definitions and data collection regarding women and violence (as both victims and perpetrators), and that those changes have been registered more widely in the community via media both in journalistic choices and in the themes and features of literary genres (xi). Drawing on this conceptual framework, my research analyses representations of domestic violence in domestic noir novels with reference to feminist criminological theories, including gender critiques of Life Course Theory and the General Strain Theory of Deviance. This article presents a textual analysis of Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident (2016) as a literary crime novel with domestic noir features centring on the use of domestic violence to build narrative interest and deliver dramatic tension, while also identifying the subversion of generic elements to enable thematic consideration of intersectional feminist concerns. I demonstrate that the rise in popularity of domestic noir occurs against a backdrop of an increased culture of interest in domestic violence, arguing that domestic noir narrative strategies leverage the complexities of feminist gains in criminology and criminal justice to give voice to women’s and girls’ experiences of gendered violence.

Peter Temple’s Miles Franklin Award winning novel, Truth, opens with the following lines:

On the Westgate Bridge . . . a dead woman, a girl really, dirty hair, dyed red, pale roots, she was stabbed too many times to count . . . Villani looked at the city towers, wobbling, unstable in the sulphurous haze. (1)

In many ways, this quotation exemplifies assumptions about criminality and victimhood that reproduce hegemonic masculinist values. Feminist literary criticism identifies such tropes in the crime fiction canon including: the good/bad woman dichotomy for the description of female characters (Jaber 118); ‘being titillated by the abused female body’ as an inciting incident to propel male characters into conflict (Munt 198); and the placement of crimes in ‘public areas of activity’ (Cranny-Francis 2). By contrast, 1980s Second Golden Age feminist hard-boiled fiction showed women as private investigators: characters with agency, but agency prescribed by masculinist…

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Published 3 December 2018 in Genre Worlds: Popular Fiction in the Twenty-First Century. Subjects: Crime fiction, Genre fiction, Domestic violence, Emily Maguire, Domestic noir.

Cite as: Vann, Meg. ‘The Menace of Intimacy: Domestic Noir, Feminist Criminology, and Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 33, no. 4, 2018. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.a32c478454.