Cultural Inspirations from How the Light Gets In

“ . . . finally, I’d like to thank Leonard Cohen. The book is named after an excerpt from his poem/song — ‘Anthem.’” (Louise Penny, Acknowledgements, How the Light Gets In)

The Future album by Leonard CohenLouise goes on to tell us that she first used the words in her second book.

“Gamache leaned in and put on his reading glasses.

Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget the perfect offering,
There’s a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

He read it out loud. Beautiful.” (A Fatal Grace, Page 174)

Cohen, a Canadian and Quebecker like Louise, passed away last November and was hailed by Nick Cave as “the greatest songwriter of them all.” Anthem appeared on his 1992 album, The Future, but the song was a long time coming. It took Cohen 10 years to write and he reflected late in life on how much the song meant to him, “There’s not a line in it that I couldn’t defend.”

How the Light Gets In, the ninth Chief Inspector Gamache novel, is a harrowing tale of deep-seated corruption both political and moral. And, at its heart, the sanctity of Three Pines itself.

On page 117 of the novel, Gamache ponders, “Three Pines, he knew, was not immune to dreadful loss. To sorrow and pain. What Three Pines had wasn’t immunity but a rare ability to heal. And that’s what they offered him.”

Leonard CohenThat statement, to me, epitomizes Louise’s choice for the title and its connection to Leonard Cohen’s profound words. As Cohen said himself in a rare interview in the early 90’s, “And worse, there is a crack in everything that you can put together: Physical objects, mental objects, constructions of any kind. But that’s where the light gets in, and that’s where the resurrection is and that’s where the return, that’s where the repentance is. It is with the confrontation, with the brokenness of things.”

Three Pines certainly has some cracks but as Gamache points out it also has “a rare ability to heal” the brokenness of things.

When Louise originally reached out to Cohen to obtain the rights — and ask what it would cost — to license the stanza for inclusion in A Fatal Grace, she was astounded by his response:

He would give it to me for free. Free. I’d paid handsomely for other poetry excerpts, and rightly so. I’d expected to pay for this, especially given that at the time, six years ago, Mr. Cohen had just had most of his savings stolen by a trusted member of his team. Instead of asking for thousands — he asked for nothing. I cannot begin to imagine the light that floods into that man.

R.I.P. Leonard Cohen

Discussion on “Cultural Inspirations from How the Light Gets In

  1. Sue Carlblom says:

    I loved How The Light Gets In….and all your novels. But this one really spoke to me because of my own brokenness and because of how transforming I think Leonard Cohen was/is.

    Reading your novels is almost like reading poetry for me. Such richness in metaphor, such pain, such joy….all wrapped up in one beautiful book after another. Thank you, Louise.

  2. Shirley Hamilton says:

    The great perception of needing a crack for the light to get in relieves so much pressure from being perfect. A great concept. A relieving concept. Do the best you can and if you crack, let the light flow in. I love the attention given to the emotional angst which is felt by all the characters in these wonderful stories. I’ve learned a lot about myself reading them.

  3. Sally Schroeder says:

    I think we would all like to transport ourselves to Three Pines at sometime or other. We need the respite.

    • Gail mickelson says:

      Totally agree

    • I agree with you and would add that the “respite” includes the deep friendship between the people of Three Pines. I would love to be a part of this friendship. I relish the idea of this community and, being a lover of snow, like nothing better than snuggling with a blanket and reading Penny’s novels.

    • Betsy says:

      I agree!! I wish Three Pines really existed. I would love to live there!

  4. Kristen says:

    I just finished “How The Light Gets In” this weekend. I didn’t think I would like it when I started reading and closed the book thinking it’s my favorite one…so far. I try not to read them too fast because I know
    (Made me miss Leonard Cohen all over again.)

  5. Sally Madeira says:

    There are so many dimensions to the Gamache books. I reread them and learn more about Louise’s writing and life each time. One of my greatest pleasures has been sharing them with my two adult daughters and having them as engrossed in Louise’s writing as I am.

  6. Nancee says:

    Louise’s characters reveal the complexity of human nature, but more than anything, her writing offers hope and healing to her readers. Cohen’s words are simple, yet profound – and through Louise’s storytelling she gifts them to each of us in a very personal way. The two of them are
    God’s ambassadors, embracing us with the humbling power of redemption. Louise and Cohen snd the people of Three Pines are my cherished friends.

  7. Pauline says:

    I named my daughter Suzanne, in the young mother’s heart felt prayer that she be loved with the same great quantity of love that comes thru Leonard Cohen when he sings of his love Suzanne. What more could a mother ask for. :) Mr. Cohen we all owe you so much. Thank you. And thank you Louise. Every book is such a joy. I am not surprised Mr. Cohen would not charge you for use of his lyrics. I am sure he would know you and recognize the light you are bringing in like he has for so many people. Many blessings to you both and thank you!

  8. Lisa Ann says:

    I love this song. When I’m feeling broken and useless, this song reminds me that my broken places as how the light gets in.

  9. Elaine says:

    “How the Light Gets In” was the first of your novels that I read. I got to the end and said, “Who are these people? I have to know more about these people!” All of your books are wonderful, but this will always be my favorite.

    • Stefanie Jacob says:

      It was my first, too, and it’s the one I give as a gift the most often, because I think it’s the best way in! And each time I re-read it (which I do annually, because each time a new book comes out I go back to the beginning and read them all again) I love it more

  10. Paula Thoele says:

    Thank you for your books. They (you) have given me comfort, companionship and hope during some difficult times. In each one I find a quote or inspiration that sustains and often intrigues me to find out more about the source. The stanza from Anthem is one I have shared most often with friends.

  11. Jan Belote says:

    Am on the 5th cd of Where the Light Gets In and enthralled! A librarian friend recommeded these books, so bought the latest this spring and fell in love! Been getting the audios from my library to keep me company in the car. Unfortunately, have not heard them in order, but still am enjoying the tidbits that reveal resolutions from other books before and after the current one. May have to get print for the 1st 2 or 3, but that’s ok also.

  12. Karen L Roland says:

    I must thank you for the inspiration I glean from your novels for my own artistic expression. The novels seem woven like a fine tapestry where even a minute thread or color still impacts and affects the big picture while seducing us back into that small detail with greater understanding and appreciation of life and art. No speed reading here rather a savoring of the taste and power of each word.

  13. About this time 4 years ago “How the Light Gets In” was my introduction to Inspector Gamache & Three Pines. Mesmerized by Louise Penny’s writing, I voraciously read the series backwards reaching “Still Life” a month or so later. Since then each eagerly anticipated addition to the series has been downloaded on Kindle (and bought in hardback to share with others.) While each book touched something deep inside, “How the Light Gets In” remains my favorite (re-read numerous times.) Since most of us are cracked clay pots in different ways, as our cracks get wider there’s more room for light to shine through, especially as we offer up our cracked bits for others. Louise Penny has shared so much light and hope through her cracked characters (especially Ruth & Jean-Guy in this book.) But, I’ll never be able to adequately convey how Louise Penny’s sharing of her journey with her beloved Michael inspired & encouraged & gave hope to this clay pot when my Mama suffered from dementia before she eventually passed. Thank you, Louise Penny, for inspiring & encouraging us to let the light in our cracked lives – and out!

    • JC Russell says:

      Virginia,
      “How the Light Gets In” was my introduction to the series as well. Afterward, I researched then began my reading with “Still Life” and worked my way through, and now, like you, I delightfully anticipate each new book, theme and visit with the characters and place that have become so nurturing to me, intellectually and spiritually. In fact, when I recommend the series to friends, and I do, I suggest that same order of reading. The themes of light and dark and healing in Cohen’s poetry and Penny’s fictional world offer a hope in our current time that is proximate to the hope and healing offered by the writings of JK Rowling in her fictional world of the ordinary, yet extraordinary, Harry Potter. That we each can make a difference in the face of seemingly overwhelming darkness, because of our imperfections rather than in spite of them, is so very hopeful. I am so happy to have discovered her writing.

  14. Eileen C Kamhi says:

    I read the first book and was hooked! And each book after has made Three Pines and the Inspector more and more a part of my life. I find both the place and him a huge comfort when things are difficult. I was always a lover of Leonard Cohen and using that quote was so fitting for the book and also so healing. I look forward to more of Inspector Gamache and as someone else has said- I only wish I could go to Three Pines and say awhile.
    Thank you Louise Penny.

  15. B Hendrix says:

    The verse weaves all of the pain of brokenness and peace of redemption with the need to actively participate – the light will be there but can only be seen and received if we are willing to open our eyes to goodness in the midst of a sorrowful place. The same themes of brokenness and redemption are echoed in Hallelujah. Louise Penny’s ability to capture this complexity over time and differently in each person brings Three Pines and its people to life, and we learn to treasure the complexity and the kindness and the strength of the best of us reflected in Inspector Gamache.

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