Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Gonzo Noir: Weird On Top And Wild At Heart?

A certain Neil was kind enough to leave a comment on Friday’s post about Barry Gifford’s WILD AT HEART, in which he described said novel as ‘Gonzo noir’. Our interest was piqued, not least because ‘Gonzo Noir’ was – and is – a potential title the Grand Vizier had earmarked for a work-in-progress he has Cheeky ‘Chico’ Morientes (right) currently sweating away over down in the CAP’s deepest dungeon. Being something of a sub-literate moron, of course, the Grand Viz hadn’t realised that ‘Gonzo noir’ is the name of a sub-sub-genre of the crime writing school, and that he was – and remains – in great danger of making a pas of the faux variety.
  So what is this strange beast ‘Gonzo noir’? Dispatching Chief Google Elf post-haste, we came up with the following references:
“The plot is pure gonzo noir, faking rights and taking lefts, jumping back and slapping the reader in the face. It’s certainly a breathless read. The violence is often shocking, vicious and, especially towards the end of the book, defiantly turned up to eleven. It might smack of sadism were it not for the fact that Williams writes with genuine finesse and a streak of black humour a mile wide,” says Crime Culture of Charlie Williams’ DEADFOLK.

“A booze-soaked tribute to those great gonzo noir writers of days gone by,” was Anthony Neil Smith’s verdict on Craig McDonald’s HEAD GAMES.

Over at Confessions of An Idiosyncratic Mind, Anthony Neil Smith gives the skinny on his own novel, PSYCHOSOMATIC: “As far as the plot, well, it’s certainly one of those ‘gonzo noir’ types, full of vivid violence and nastiness.”

Meanwhile, an interview over at Mooky Chick beginneth thusly: “Author of THE CONTORTIONIST HANDBOOK and the upcoming DERMAPHORIA, Craig Clevenger writes gonzo noir about identity and emotional freefall in a way you probably haven’t seen before.”

Then there’s James R. Winter over at January Magazine, reviewing Marc Lecard’s debut novel: “VINNIE’S HEAD, by debut novelist Marc Lecard, brings gonzo noir to Long Island ... VINNIE’S HEAD is a lesson in the absurd. Lecard spins an unbelievable plot and laces it with cartoonish violence and bizarre players. Yet he does so with tongue firmly planted in cheek ... Critics mention Carl Hiassen when talking about this book. Kinky Friedman also came to mind as I read it.”
  So there we have it: black humour; narrative fake-outs; slapping the reader in the face; shocking, vivid and / or cartoonish violence; bizarre players; identity and emotional freefall.
  So far, so good, at least for the Grand Viz’s work-in-progress. But what of the crucial ‘gonzo’ element itself, that which is derived from the Great Gonzo himself, the sadly missed Hunter S. Thompson (right), and which – presumably, at least – involves the author inserting him or herself into the text, Kinky-style? Quoth the Wikipedia research boffins:
Gonzo journalism is a style of journalism which is written subjectively, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first person narrative. The style tends to blend factual and fictional elements to emphasize an underlying message and engage the reader. The word Gonzo was first used in 1970 to describe an article by Hunter S. Thompson, who later popularized the style. The term has since been applied to other subjective artistic endeavours …
The term “Gonzo” in connection to Hunter S. Thompson (right) was first used by Boston Globe magazine editor Bill Cardoso in 1970 when he described Hunter S. Thompson’s The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved, which was written for the June 1970 Scanlan’s Monthly, as “pure Gonzo journalism”. Cardoso claimed that “gonzo” was South Boston Irish slang describing the last man standing after an all night drinking marathon. Cardoso also claimed that it was a corruption of the French Canadian word “gonzeaux”, which means “shining path”, although this is disputed. In Italian, Gonzo is a common word for a gullible person, a “sucker” …
  Anyone else have any contribution to make? If any of you beautiful people out there can shed any light on the truth of ‘Gonzo noir’, we’d love to hear from you …


Neil said...

Don't forget Gonzo from the muppets.

I just think that people who enjoy Hunter Thompson will also enjoy Jim Thompson, James Crumley, Barry Gifford, and plenty of other noir writers who also add a giant dollop of "weird" on top of the classic noir elements. Plus, it needs an extra-big portion of VOICE.

Others so far unmentioned:
Allan Guthrie, Ray Banks, Victor Gischler, Christopher Goffard, Harry Crews (not really crime fiction, but DAMN!), Larry Brown (same note as Crews), Harry Whittington, Chester Himes (Holy shit, gonzo and then some), Charles Willeford, Vicki Hendricks, and the hits keep coming...

At a stretch, Jerome Charyn, too. Those Sidell novels are insane.

I'm missing plenty.

Declan Burke said...

Much obliged, Neil ... a big VOICE and dollops of weird are always good. I'm still wondering about the 'gonzo' element of an author's self-reference, though ... In Cold Blood? Anyone? Cheers, Dec

bookwitch said...

Oh, so it's not the Muppets' Gonzo? Sigh.

Neil said...

That self-referencing is part of the journalism, yes. As for the fiction, maybe the narrative voice again (1st person mostly? Or a really stylized 3rd?). Maybe just the tone of it all. So it's the feel that gets the gonzo, to me. And even then, I wouldn't say so much a sub-genre as just a mood. Like, Ford Mustangs are bad-ass, but *Shelby* Mustangs are more bad-ass, thus, gonzo.

Man, that was the worst analogy ever.