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Digital Subscriptions > Quill & Quire > November 2017 > Mean streets

Mean streets

Montreal solidifies its reputation as the epicentre for Canadian noir in a strong new anthology


Montreal Noir

John McFetridge and Jacques Filippi, eds.

Akashic Books

THERE IS A particular sensibility associated with the noir genre in both film and literature. Steeped in shadow and gloom, with origins in German expressionism, the noir temperament is saturated in booze, sex, and sin. It locates itself in dank corners of dive bars, down neglected back alleys, in flophouses and cut-rate motel rooms, and on the wrong side of the tracks. And notwithstanding a subgenre of so-called “rural noir” (think Donald Ray Pollock and Kevin Hardcastle), it is almost defiantly urban.

In Canada, the centre of the noir universe is Montreal. Situated within spitting distance of the U.S. border, the city was a prime base for bootleggers and rum runners during the Prohibition era (not to mention whiskey-starved Americans crossing the border in search of the city’s storied nightlife); as an industrial hub during and after the Second World War, it offered a milieu for working-class labourers to rub elbows with financiers and cultural leaders; and it has always boasted a refreshingly laissez-faire relationship with sex, drugs, and gambling. As the francophone centre of anglophone Canada, and the anglophone centre of francophone Quebec, Montreal is, in one sense at least, a city of outsiders. As John McFetridge and Jacques Filippi write, “It’s unsettling, it’s subversive, it’s palpable, but it’s never obvious.” Or, more succinctly: “Noir is Montreal.”

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