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Aug 06, 2007


Jason Erik Lundberg

A great start to the discussion, and I'm looking forward to seeing it continue. I've read all of Nicola's novels with the exception of Ammonite, and most of her short stories, but Always has yet to show up in Singapore bookstores, and it's driving me mad.

Aud is a fascinating character, and I particularly like what Dave has to say about her (although I usually like what Dave has to say about most things). Stay broke my heart in about a dozen different ways.


In another forum, Griffith has said, "My hope is that all they'll get is joy, a seamless experience that will, ultimately, change their life."

Seeing Aud deal with life first showed me my life, and then showed me how I hide from it. Now I work on "being there." I work on changing my life.

Nicola Griffith

Wow, well, this is every writer's dream: serious discussion of the work. Thank you.

I hope no one thinks I'm crashing the party early if I ask a couple of questions.

Matt, I'm intrigued by your comments on voice. I empathise with your feelings on Hemingway--I've never liked his stuff--so it was a bit of a shock to find my name and his mentioned in the same breath. Now I'm dying to know what it is about Aud's voice that you'd classify as hardboiled. What does hardboiled mean to you? (To everyone.)

Kassia, I'm in the middle of prepping a post for Booksquare about series voice, so I'll look forward to anything else you might have to say about 'noir voice'. (Is it the same as hardboiled?) I'm also toying with the notion of a rant (er, calm and reasoned disussion) about voice for my guest stint here in a couple of days...

Dave, yep, when those women learning self-defence say 'attacker' they think 'man'. I spent some time messing with that but it just didn't ring true any other way. Aud, though, knows you can't equate the two terms--and I had such a struggle at the copyedit stage over pronouns because of it. Aud knows that the attacker isn't always 'he' but, ooof, you try persuading a copyeditor to accept 'when they attack, take their right arm...'


I'll leave the rest to the others, but I'm wondering if the hardboiled perception in the voice boils down -- in this case anyway -- to a lack of sentimentality in Aud's view of the world. (This topic does come in for some more discussion in the next installment, but I probably won't post it until tomorrow.)


Rencontrer Julia lui apprend à prendre la mesure de ce que peux représenter une personne
Qui compte pour elle !
Fessant de Aud une personne plus sensible ! Je ne dirais pas plus humaine ! Car malgré les apparences Aud L’ai ! Il n’y qu’à lires un si long chagrin pour le voir ! Jamais perdant par la mort la seule personne qu’elle aime le plus au monde! Ne peut la rendre plus humaine! Car franchement cela aurait du être l’opposé !
Mais là au contraire elle aide des amis, qui n’avait pas d’importance dans le premier livre de la série! Elle se découvre des sentiments ! Qu’elle n’avait jamais ressentit auparavant ! Des sentiments dont elle ignorait l’existence! Des sentiments qui la mette à fleur de peau dont jamais elle n’en avait ressentit le moindre effleurement avant son amour pour Aud!
Mais seulement elle n’avait pas conscience de l’importance du mot aimer! De la sensation qu’est de Ressentir un sentiment tellement fort ! Qu’il lui amène le dépassement de soi ! Elle n’a jamais eut à gérer ce sentiment de manière aussi forte!
Sa vie elle l’a vivait ! Mais point barre ! A part sa solitude! Une vie organisée de mains de maître ! Qu’avait –elle ? Moralement son âme était vide ! Sans intérêt !
Et surtout elle apprend ce qu’ait d’avoir peur pour quelqu’un ! Quelqu’un qui compte dans sa vie !
Quelqu’un dont seul le souffle de la vie la rend heureuse !
Elle a pris conscience qu’elle pouvait donner sa vie pour Julia peut importe le prix a
Payer pour la voir vivre!
Car n’ayant pas reçu beaucoup d’amour étant jeune ! Cette absence on la ressent énormément dans les deux premiers livres de Nicola.
Elle n’avait pas conscience du chamboulement que représenterais pour elle son coup de fondre pour Julia ! Ni au niveau de sa vie! Ni au niveau des événements qui allait suivre.
Car c’est ce qui lui arrive ! Et là on sent une personne désemparée ! Perdu !
De toute façon a la mort de Julia, Aud n’ait plus que l’ombre d’elle-même ! Une femme extrêmement malheureuse ! Mais qui à fait une promesse ! Mais que c’est dur pour elle !
Nadia Tazi.

Dave Schwartz

I was intrigued, too, by the discussion of "hardboiled" and "noir" in the email exchanges we had. I don't think I'd classify the Aud novels that way, mainly because of something Meghan brought up--they're very sensual. Nicola, you've written about Writing From the Body, and that's something that's very striking about reading Aud: she's so physical that at times it's like we're inhabiting her body, not just her story. I can open to just about any page in Always and find language like "My muscles felt hot and hollow and soft, like just-blown glass" (p.90) or "If someone cut me now, the blood that splashed on the floor would be crimson" (p.222). I suppose one could read that sort of language as ominous, but to me it just reflect the way Aud thinks; she knows bodies, particularly her own, and keeping track of herself in that way is crucially important to her. In Always this theme is especially important, as Kick is presented first as Aud's physical equal and then someone who is being betrayed by her own body. I think, to answer Matt's question, that's exactly what Aud really fears.

Anyway, I won't ramble further, but I, too am curious to see how others explicate the hardboiled comparison.


Nicola -- I'm going to make a (very) lame attempt to answer your question. Though I suspect many people use the terms noir and hard-boiled interchangeably (unless speaking of eggs), in my mind, the former is a bit mysterious. You can't see around the corners and the narrator doesn't always have a full picture. Whereas a hard-boiled voice tells it like he/she/it (pronouns really are a pain, aren't they?) sees it. No mystery, no obscuring details to taunt the reader with information being withheld.

Hard-boiled is more direct, tell-it-like-it-is. Noir has mystery.


Aud vie sa vie avec les armes qu’elle a entre ses mains! C’est à dire son autodéfense! Est-ce qu’elle en fait qui est dur ! Non ! Je ne l’ai pas ressentie comme ça ! Car c’est une force de l’esprit doublé d’une connaissance parfaite des points vitaux du corps humain !
A la base elle s’en sert que dans le besoin ! La partie dure dans le premier livre de Nicola est peut-être la vengeance à la mort de Julia ! Car elle fait justice elle-même auprès de Denneny! Mais là on est confronté à un problème de conscience morale !
Aud a cet instant là ne pense plus avec un esprit serein ! Mais avec un cœur malade d’amour perdu !
Le côté dur doit-on le considérer à sa force de part son self-défense ? Et ce qu’elle en fait !
Ou doit-on considérer le côté dur au point de vue moral? Et de la vengeance dont elle fait usage !
D’où le dilemme pour moi française! Car je préfère ! Je crois le côté moral! Car qui peut dire comment on réagirait ! Si ce qui arrive à Aud nous arrivaient?
Oui pour moi le point dur de Aud dans « Un si long chagrin est le passage avec Karp! Pas au point de vu physique, mais de la manière froide et irrationnelle qu’elle atteint au moment de le battre à mort ! Ce n’était pas prémédité ! Mais le sens de la perte morale dedans est très fort dans ce passage, et là j’ai eus un moment de frissons glacials ! Qui a été très vite apaisé avec la scène dans le square ! Et l’histoire du faucon et du chat ! Quel contraste ! Et qu’elle réaction contraire de Aud.
Nadia Tazi.

Nicola Griffith

Kassia, that's a really interesting distinction between noir and hardboiled.

I've always thought of noir as being claustrophobic--a really narrow POV from the perspective of some loser who is trying to make her/his life better by conning or hurting or putting one over on other people. And then everything goes wrong, inevitably so--because the protagonist is basically a bit dim and rather mean-spirited. (Noir always seems to be a bit moralistic that way: crime doesn't pay.)

So, given the narrow POV, the criminal-without-the-big-picture scenario, yes, myteriousness might be part of it. Huh. How cool, something to think about...

Hardboiled: maybe it's a certain cynicism or callousness (like archetypal murder police joking by a body). I don't see Aud that way.

Gwenda, lack of sentimentality--maybe. But I think all good fiction is unsentimental in the sense that all emotions are earned. (I remember getting an irate email years ago about TBP accusing me of gushing sentimentality because of the emotion at the end. I think the reader was cross because I'd made him feel something when he didn't want to. And Aud has been getting a bit lyrical lately /grin/.)

Dave, I love the notion of you feeling as though you're actually in Aud's body; it's what I aim for. I try to fool the reader's mirror neurons. (And I *still* wonder why so many people are afraid of the body. I haven't seen much change since I wrote Writing from the Body thirteen years ago. Sigh.)

Nadia, well, my French isn't that great but I think what you're saying is, No, Aud isn't *becoming* human, she *is* human--that she couldn't have fallen in love with Julia otherwise. And, yes, of course you're right. Perhaps a better way for me to phrase it might be that she gets more attuned to the world, more integrated with it, and more aligned with herself as the books progress.


The unsentimental thing is the biggest trademark of hardboiled stuff for me -- what you see is what you get, as Kassia says, the narrator is not playing games and that definitely gels with my impression of Aud.

But then I get into more nebulous territory... I think the hardboiled novels that I think of (Chandler, specifically) have this almost fanciful quality in them too. They're very grounded in place, in character, in detail, even in the personality and worldview of the protagonist (especially as narrator) and that's where I think the sensuousness figures in.

I know I've been guilty of tossing around the world noir where these books are concerned and I do kinda take it back. Especially with this one, it does feel there's considerably more light than darkness in the world. Perhaps Aud is becoming less a noir heroine and more a romantic one as time progresses...

For all the hardboiled novel is supposed to offer us this harsh realist eye, it seems there's a romanticism beneath even that. I see that in these books.

Paging Sarah Weinman to come in with the real knowledge of these terms!

(Tomorrow's installments are going to get us into this even further, I think.)


Nicola, I think we cross-posted. I poked around a bit looking for a definition on wikipedia and found one (I know, I know, not a definitive source by any means -- can't link from here, but search hardboiled and you'll find it). Noir definitely seems wrong to apply as defined there, but hardboiled I can still see, particularly in the description of the trademarks of the hardboiled character and the general characteristics. But there are clearly key differences (she's more confident than cocky, more serious than flippant), and those are largely the things that are the most interesting about Aud. I do think the shadows of the hardboiled tradition are in the mix somewhere too though, and it's the contrast between what we expect from that and what Aud actually is that creates one of the chief pleasures of the books. For me, anyway.

I must say though, that if I'd read Stay and Always first and independent of finding them in the mystery section, I probably wouldn't jump to comparisons kin to those categories first. I still maintain these are just excellent literary novels, "meaning of life thrillers," period.

Nicola Griffith

Wouldn't it be handy to have a nifty phrase to describe Aud? I've often wondered if Sarah Waters did so well with Tipping the Velvet because, apart from it being a fabulous reading experience, someone very smart came up with the term 'lesbian picaresque'. Perfect.

I wanted to call Stay an 'action meditation' but no one would bite and, looking back, it is a bit silly. But, yep, I think the Aud books are novels. So why aren't they called that? Well, I have a theory--in an I've-had-a-lot-of-beer-and-I'm-just-talking kind of way--more of which on Thursday.

Matt Cheney

I knew when I used it that "hard boiled" wasn't exactly the term I wanted, but I lacked anything better. "Noir" for me is all about shadows and mystery, and that wasn't what I was trying to get at. I wish I had some sort of machine to put a music critic in my head when I read the book and tell me what those sounds I hear are...

I know that for me the sound is a mix of word choice, sentence length, and subject matter, all of which go together to create a tone. With someone like Hemingway, it's hideously obvious and easy to point to, but the tone of Always is more varied and subtle to my (inner) ear.

I didn't have the book in front of me when we were sending emails back and forth, so I had to talk somewhat vaguely, but I've got it here now and will try to do a post where I watch myself reading it, though travel this week may prevent it from fitting perfectly into our timeframe, so it'll probably be on The Mumpsimus.

As for genre ... I think there are some books that are really helped by clear boundaries -- it makes an audience relatively easily identifiable, and that audience knows more or less what to expect -- and then there are books like Always that I can't figure out any way for particular labels to help, because the expectations created by a label like "mystery" or "thriller" are only partially going to be met, and the reader will have a much more pleasurable experience if they let the book do its own defining page by page.


Apropos of hardboiled vs. noir, here's Raymond Chandler describing the prose of Dashiell Hammett:

"He put these people down on paper as they are, and he made them talk and think in the language they customarily used for these purposes. He had style, but his audience didn't know it, because it was in a language not supposed to be capable of such refinements. They thought they were getting a good meaty melodrama written in the kind of lingo they imagined they spoke themselves. It was, in a sense, but it was much more. All language begins with speech, and the speech of common men at that, but when it develops to the point of becoming a literary medium it only looks like speech. Hammett's style at its worst was almost as formalized as a page of Marius the Epicurean; at its best it could say almost anything. I believe this style, which does not belong to Hammett or to anybody, but is the American language (and not even exclusively that any more), can say things he did not know how to say or feel the need of saying. In his hands it had no overtones, left no echo, evoked no image beyond a distant hill. He is said to have lacked heart, yet the story he thought most of himself is the record of a man's devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before."

I think parts of that definition could describe Always, but only a few. I stole it from a longer discussion at

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Nice post. I believe this style, which does not belong to Hammett or to anybody, but is the American language (and not even exclusively that any more), can say things he did not know how to say or feel the need of saying. In his hands it had no overtones, left no echo, evoked no image beyond a distant hill. He is said to have lacked heart, yet the story he.

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I'm in the middle of prepping a post for Booksquare about series voice, so I'll look forward to anything else you might have to say about 'noir voice'.

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I didn't have the book in front of me when we were sending emails back and forth, so I had to talk somewhat vaguely, but I've got it here now and will try to do a post where I watch myself reading it, though travel this week may prevent it from fitting perfectly into our timeframe, so it'll probably be on The Mumpsimus.


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