REVIEW: Jo Baker, A.A. Dhand and Mari Hannah, Northern Noir

25 October 2019

12 October

St Nic’s Church

Bethany Townsend

Jo Baker and Mari Hannah are two writers hailing from the North of England, who similarly explore the inexplicable link between personhood and crime amidst the background of the ‘Northern Noir’ in their respective novels The Body Lies and The Scandal. Chaired by Simon Savidge of Savidge Reads, the event offered a rich dialogue exploring the social issues intrinsic to criminality, the need for a larger voice for victims of crime and what it means to subvert the genre of ‘crime’ fiction itself.

For Baker, the setting of a novel is crucial. Having grown up here, she notes how the ‘feel’ of the north creates a sense of inhabitancy within the novel. Physicality holds a natural foreground in the text, creating an imminent sense of presence for the reader. Baker’s own childhood experiences allow the reader to inhabit a life in the North and gain a real understanding of the ‘texture’ of the northern landscape.

The ‘Northern Noir’ is important in Hannah’s text too. The shifting of location in Hannah’s novel is suggestive to her of the centrality of setting to a story – Hannah shares her own fascination at how startingly different the same landscape can appear in morning and evening. In terms of her writing, Hannah notes how she did not set out to write a novel set in the north, yet it ‘seeped’ out naturally. It seems that writing offers an opportunity to channel the world in which we live, something Hannah speaks of as a ‘joy’.

Equally, writing has offered both Baker and Hannah an opportunity to probe the genre of ‘crime’ and divulge from this typically ‘narrow’ category of fiction. Baker notes how her novel hovers around ‘genre’. Her text uses typical crime tropes, but that the act of writing this particular story for Baker shaped itself fluidly outside of the restraints of the genre.

Experiences of being flooded with images of female victims in crime, whether it be on television or in novels, fuelled Baker’s desire to assert the personhood of the individual in her novel. For Baker, this emotive response sparked a need to give ‘the body a voice’ and attribute a much-needed identity to the often nameless, faceless victims of crime.

Similarly, Hannah noted the significance of crime fiction as a whole, that in a hundred years’ time when people want to know what happened in our society, they should look to crime fiction. For Hannah, the genre offers an invaluable assessment of every level of society and she relishes in laying down a ‘puzzle’ for the reader to solve, reaching their own conclusive assessment by the end of the novel.

This event offered a multi-faceted, nuanced dialogue between Baker, Hannah and Savidge. Both writers alike share beautiful visions in their novels, they provide an essential voice to those who are typically stolen of one and subvert typical genre narratives to create unique works of fiction.

This work was produced by participants on our Durham Book Festival Reviewers in Residence programme, a cultural journalism programme run by New Writing North Young Writers. Reviewers in Residence gives aspiring journalists aged 15-23 the chance to review books, attend events and interview authors at Durham Book Festival. For more information about New Writing North Young Writers visit the New Writing North website.

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