In 2012 Gillian Flynn published her third novel, Gone Girl, to phenomenal success and the novel was swiftly followed by a Hollywood movie. It was a crime fiction success with a difference, a psychological thriller characterized by sudden plot reversals, a novel with feminist credentials but exploring a dark female psychology – Amy Dunne’s obsessive, controlling, manipulative mind. Other plot-driven, psychological novels since 2000, have equally explored dark (female and male) personalities: Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train (2015) and Into the Water (2017), Louise Welsh’s The Girl on the Stairs (2012) and A Lovely Way to Burn (2014), Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen (2015), Kelly Braffet’s Josie and Jack (2012), Emiko Jean’s We’ll Never Be Apart (2018), Elizabeth Benedict’s The Practice of Deceit (2005), Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go (2014), Sabine Durrant’s Under Your Skin (2014), Cynthia Thayer’s A Brief Lunacy (2005), all novels characterized as ‘psychological thrillers’.
An interesting hybrid deploying elements from hardboiled crime fiction, the novel of adventure and the gothic, the psychological thriller is characterized by the absence of the more rigid conventions associated with the classical whodunnit or the hardboiled crime novel and by the particular reading behaviours of its audience. Indeed, the reader of a psychological thriller expects the unexpected, the sudden and catastrophic plot twists, the sudden unmasking of an unreliable narrator, the surprise ending – and so indulges in predictive reading, speculating how the plot will develop and expecting a surprising and shocking narrative where no character is ‘safe’.
At the same time, thrillers, and especially psychological thrillers, explore contemporary anxieties and address time-sensitive, topical fears and events. They address terrorism, pandemics, cybercrime feminism and gender, but also economic austerity, financial collapse, mental health problems, as well as other insidious forces and trends – in these neoliberal times - undermining our commonsensical trust in the rational, grounded individual.
This issue aims to assess the rise of the psychological thriller as a publishing success since 2000 and exploring the new, topical problems and anxieties focused on by the psychothriller. As a result the issue will explore a new crime fiction subgenre that seems to have undergone a rapid and fascination development since 2000.
Dr. Sabine Vanacker
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- crime fiction
- psychological thriller