"All great literature is depressing."
Noir fiction is dark, black. Its about our deepest fears & unspeakable desires. There's little hope or satisfaction, and there are no happy endings.
"Noir is not about the people standing on the edge of the abyss looking in, but about the people in it, forever writhing, aware of the pain, aware of the future pain to come."
Paul Duncan, Noir Fiction, Dark Highways
Roman Noir, or Black Book, was used in 18th Century France to describe British Gothic novels. These were full of the darker side of life; tales of terror, misfortune & mortality, often mixing in aspects of the supernatural for good measure.
Noir was used again in 20th Century France, this time to describe the hardboiled books that were becoming increasingly popular in America. The Black Mask writers of the 20s & 30s used street slang to describe a world of stoic heroes and criminal low lives. French publisher Gallimard translated some of the works, and in 1945 Serie Noir was established. Serie Noir, has a double meaning. It literally translates as Black Series, but it can also mean a series of unfortunate events - a recurring factor in noir fiction.
The term found its way into the English language (with reference to literature - noir had been used since the fifties to describe film) thanks to Barry Gifford, founder of Black Lizard Books. He visited Paris in the early 1980s and rediscovered Serie Noir books by Jim Thompson. These formed the first releases of Black Lizard, and Gifford used 'noir' to describe them in the introduction to the series and the modern concept of noir fiction was born.