The French troubles thriller
: Genre, ideologies and representations (1971-1998)

  • Daniel Magennis

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


While the English-language cultural response to the Troubles in Northern Ireland is well studied, French representations of the conflict have so far gone unobserved. This thesis aims to address this critical omission by examining examples of the most numerous and commercially successful of such responses while the conflict was ongoing: the Troubles thriller. Thrillers on Irish matters are part of the virtually inexhaustible output of thrillers and crime fiction published from the 1960s to 1990s by popular publishers in France. Thrillers on the Troubles featured in several of the genre's most popular series and are an ideal platform to observe French acculturation of the Troubles subject matter and Northern Irish setting during this period. These representations did not come into existence ex nihilo, but are a further iteration of a long-standing French interest in Ireland, Irish domestic affairs, and the "Irish Question".

Their representations are therefore examined in light of prior cultural productions as well as contemporary news coverage of the conflict.

To facilitate this study, a "French Troubles fiction corpus" was created. Many of these thrillers share features and representational commonalities with the larger English-language oeuvre, replicating common understandings (and misunderstandings) about the Troubles. Using a Marxian-Gramscian framework to explore the range of political discourses, both conservative and revolutionary, present in the corpus, this study charts how French thrillers deterritorialised the conflict and presented the Troubles through the lens of domestic French concerns. The theme of the Troubles thus becomes a lens through which diverse topics as Western and European sovereignty, French post-colonial identity, capitalism, socialism and revolution, nationalism and national identity are all explored.

The corpus provides a cross-section of the spy thriller genre at large in France. Through it we can also witness attempts at renewal of the genre in light of political and social vicissitudes that threatened its already fragile standing. Conservative genre stalwarts are seen to give way over time to newer types of protagonists whose heroism is not through rank, standing, or genetics, but derived explicitly from a dialectical relationship with the state. These new post-ideological forms of heroism are examined here through the lens of a Hegelian dialectic of the Spirit. Later works also demonstrate further diversification of the Troubles theme. A reading of these novels informed by the Hegelian notion of Widerspruch reveals the use of the Northern Irish setting as one of acute crisis that makes possible interrogation of identity, freedom and reality.

The French Troubles fiction corpus created for this study also reveals an evolution of the subject matter after the conflict's end, indicating an alteration in the French apprehension of the Troubles and contemporary Northern Ireland. This project prompts further study of a cultural phenomenon whose representational forms shift continually as new works are produced and whose story is not yet over.
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsAHRC Northern Bridge DTP
SupervisorDominique Jeannerod (Supervisor) & Andrew Pepper (Supervisor)


  • Troubles
  • spy thriller
  • roman d'espionnage
  • Northern Ireland
  • Irlande du Nord
  • hegemony
  • fleuve noir
  • Hegel
  • popular literature

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