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Author Annabelle Thorpe talks to TripFiction about #HolidayNoir

10th February 2018

Holiday Noir: The Ultimate in Armchair Travel – and the essence of TripFiction


Never heard of holiday noir? If you love to travel – both in reality and in fiction – the chances are you’re already a fan.

‘Holiday noir’ is a term I stumbled across, when trying to define my second novel, What Lies Within. Set in Morocco, it certainly isn’t a romance, although it involves love affairs, and it’s arguably not a thriller, although there is a murder. It’s not a whodunit, although the reader will wonder who did ‘it’ (and, at times, exactly what ‘it’ is).


Instead it looks at what can happen to both individuals and relationships when we move from a familiar, understood world to one where the boundaries, expectations and perameters are all unfamiliar. I’m fortunate enough to travel for my job, and have long been fascinated by the freedom that travelling affords me; to be a slightly different version of myself, to shake off some of the expectations and perceptions from home and slip on another skin.

I’m far from the first writer who wants to put this into fiction. F Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic Tender is the Night is, at heart, the study of a disintegrating relationship, made all the more discomforting by being far from home. The Sheltering Sky sees Paul Bowles takes the same mystical, enigmatic country that so fascinates me – Morocco, and chart the slow fracturing of his characters as the unknown – and unfathomable – desert strips them of every belief they have.   AndAnnabelle Thorpe The Talented Mr Ripley is Patricia Highsmith’s masterwork, exploring how our judgement and perceptions can become increasingly clouded when we are away from the familiar. The Beach, by Alex Garland, is classic holiday noir.

In What Lies Within, I wanted to explore the impact of place and of a changed reality on longstanding relationships. What complicates these relationships is an existing imbalance; Paul and Freya are British, Hamad is Qatari, and hugely wealthy. These differences, which the three have managed to accommodate and overcome in their lives in England, rise to the surface in new and unexpected ways in the changed social climate of Morocco.

The beauty of holiday noir is that it seeks to reproduce the feelings most of us experience when we travel, but rarely admit to. When we talk about travelling we use words like relaxing, restorative, invigorating, stimulating. But most of us, at times, also feel a little unsettled and unsure – a sense of being slightly at sea. Travel often involves being plunged into a different social milieu, where culture and traditions are very different to our own.

And, of course, whilst we are navigating all these differences, there are relationships to maintain – whether we are travelling with a partner, friends or family. Time away is often cherished as offering space to rebuild relationships, or rediscover what is best about them. But it can also shine a light on hidden, deep-seated issues; people often travel to escape their problems, only to find them stowed in their luggage, alongside the swimwear and suncream.

Holiday noir is the flipside to all those books with soft-focus covers of Tuscan hills, where a tragic divorcee buys a crumbling villa and meet an enchanting group of locals, one of whom turns out to be a lonely and charming widower. Instead, books like What Lies Within are about places as they really are, the discomforting as well as the exciting. With Marrakech, I have tried to depict the reality – an exotic, challenging, chaotic, alien and utterly, indefinably ‘other’ place. Like Venice, I believe that Marrakech is a city that only those born there will ever truly know.

#HolidayNoir is not a new genre, but as travel continues to play an integral part in many of our lives, it is increasingly timely. For many of us, travel has become far more experiential; instead of lazing on sunloungers, we want to explore the country we are visiting, meet locals, understand the culture. So too with travelling on the page; readers want reality as well as the fantasy, a sense of being plunged into an unfamiliar, fascinating world, where nothing is quite what they expect.

Travelling is a universal pleasure and preoccupation, but it’s not always the idyll the brochure covers make out. Challenging, stimulating and even life-changing, it’s only when we are away from everything we know, that we really find out who we are. This is what ‘holiday noir’ novels set out to explore; the fundamental difference between the person we are when we are surrounded by the known and the familiar, and who we might become, when everything we know is stripped away.

What Lies Within is published by Quercus on April 5 (£14.99) and you can pre-order from your favourite bookseller and through the TripFiction database

You can follow Annabelle on Twitter and via her website.

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  1. User: Jennifer S. Alderson

    Posted on: 12/02/2018 at 9:48 am

    Holiday noir is an excellent description! I think most of my favorite books fall into this genres. There’s something magical about traveling to another country via fiction anyway. And detailed descriptions of place add so much texture and depth to novels that have a strong thriller vibe or involve a mystery.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 12/02/2018 at 10:32 am

      That is just SO true! It’s a great genre with a name now!!


  2. User: Judith Works

    Posted on: 10/02/2018 at 3:49 pm

    Must read after I finish The Dry