Cultural Inspirations from The Brutal Telling

“In the letter she said that her father had said something to her. Something horrible and unforgivable.”
“The Brutal Telling.”
“That’s how she described it.”
(The Brutal Telling)

If you’ve read Louise’s fifth novel in the Inspector Gamache Series, you’ll recognize this scene, in which Clara Morrow explains the phrase “The Brutal Telling”. The phrase was first used by the Modernist Canadian painter Emily Carr to describe a horrific falling out with her father.

Emily Carr with her monkeyHere she is with her Javanese monkey, Woo, who plays an important part in Louise’s book. And as Superintendent Therese Brunel points out, “She adored all animals, but Woo above all.”

Carr was born in 1871 in British Columbia, one of nine children and, by all accounts, had a relatively stable childhood up until “The Brutal Telling” episode. Clara describes the mysterious incident to Inspector Gamache as thus, “She went from being a happy, carefree child to an embittered woman. Very solitary, not very likable.” Whatever terrible transgression took place (to this day, the details are unknown), it propelled Emily to travel to the isolated regions of Canada where she recorded, through her paintings, the vanishing indigenous cultures that resided there.

Emily Carr PaintingThe similarities between the real life Carr and Louise’s Clara are apparent. Both, of course, are painters and in a scene late in the novel, Superintendent Brunel and Clara sit before a statue of Carr where Therese tells Clara, “She looks a bit like you”. This is also the point in the book in which Brunel—while examining Clara’s painting —exclaims, “The Fall. My God, you’ve painted the Fall. That moment. She’s not even aware of it, is she? Not really, but she sees something, a hint of the horror to come. The Fall from Grace.”

The Fall from Grace. . . .

See our previous post on A Rule Against Murder and Milton’s Paradise Lost to see how deftly and deeply these novels interweave with one another. It really is quite amazing!

Oh, and remember Clara’s own description of Emily Carr? “. . . an embittered woman. Very solitary, not very likable.”

Kinda reminds me of a certain rascally poet who also has fondness for out-of-the-ordinary pets. . . .

Discussion on “Cultural Inspirations from The Brutal Telling

  1. Peri McQuay says:

    Suggests a thread to me. The liberation solitude offers. Look first at Carr ‘ s splendid work. Because she was driven to retreat, her vision came to full flowering. And although she was understandably embittered by a very hard, impoverished life, where few could appreciate her, the work itself is full of tenderness.

    • Marjorie Korb says:

      Tenderness- what a lovely, true word to describe Emily Carr’s paintings.
      Her separation from other people led her to real insight, and what a blessing she
      had the gift to share this with others in time to come. Louise Penny shares this
      insight, I believe- how generously she has given her talents to so many!

  2. Paulube Hammans says:

    I only discovers these novels in January this year,purely by accident in my local library ( in Suffolk Uk). I read first ‘The Beautiful Mystery’ and then ordered all the others from my library not reading them in any order. I have now bought the first 3 and am reading them chronologically . They are affecting me deeply, challenging me and helping me explore issues and spiritual matters I have not looked at for a long while. I am an avid reader and every now and then an author comes a long whose characters and stories shine a light into ones soul. This is what your works have done for me Louise. I am still puzzling over their meaning. Are they morality plays, is ‘ Three Pines’ paradise lost and found? What does the Arnot case and its reoercusions represent Who is Gamanche? So much to think about and enjoy and be challenged by .

    • Joan Keller Maresh says:

      Your comments reflect my experience with Louise’s Gamache that I could not expand on it. I am now rereading all of the books in chronological order to remember the pieces I rushed over to finally get the conclusion in all of her books. A Beautiful Mystery had been my favorite but I am getting a better feel for the places and people she describes so beautifully. Layers and layers of meaning and I wish I could translate the french which is sprinkles throughout.

      • Jacqueline says:

        She usually paraphrases the translation of any French utterances in the next paragraph – you’re not missing anything.
        I just finished A Great Reckoning this morning, and one scene moved me to tears. It’s a greeting ceremony for a child, when the celebrant asks – “Who stands for this child?” and the whole village gets to its feet. Lovely.

  3. Harriet Rynkiewicz says:

    To me Three Pines is a real place, even if not on the map, and though it appears to be a place of retreat, a place where the inhabitants can just be themselves and still feel warmly welcomed, supported, and accepted, it still must encounter murders and dark happenings, like any other place on earth. What makes Three Pines different? The people who have traveled there “from away” and/or who have chosen to live there live lives of second chances, filled with great love and acceptance. Just my opinion.

    • Nancy Marsh says:

      I am rereading the entire series for a second time, and am discovering a depth not so deeply felt the first time through. It now seems to me that Three Pines exists within each soul, each individual, as well as a sanctuary within each community within which we live. It feels to me like the space in which we can learn to live “on this Earth, but not of it”, a place deep within of connection with the Self with a capital “S”, and with Universe. We see Three Pines through Gamache’s eyes, as he experiences such deep pain, and begins to heal. Three Pines is a safe place for him, even when coping with Gabri’s situation. Beauvoir fights all of this “peace stuff”, but there is healing for him, too, with, of all people, Ruth! All of this is within each of us – healing. And this healing comes, in part, I feel, as we recognize within us Universal Art, Poetry, History, Culture, so beautifully shared by Louise, and existing within and from Three Pines, a Trinity of Universe, Earth, and Connection. Thank you, Louise!

    • Ann says:

      My thoughts exactly! I love going there, to be surrounded by such dear and sometimes challenging friends and family. These culture inspirations lend to our visits.

  4. Sarah mcKibben says:

    Characters that are complex and believable. Relationships that are as real and messy as our own! And wonderful descriptive elements and humor! A sense of morality. What more could you ask for?

  5. Carol Cross says:

    Enjoy the stories with their wonderful characters so much!!
    But I’m learning things about Canada that I never would have otherwise as a delightful addition to enjoyable stories. Like so many, I want to go to Trois Pins. Where oh where do I find it????

  6. Linda says:

    I picked up my first novel of Loiuse Penny’s on a hot humid August evening. Reading in bed matched the close almost suffocating humidity Armand felt in his bedroom at the Inn. i was transported to one of my favourite provinces and i slowly became involved with all the characters and genuinely cared what happened to them. a true test for me to return to an author. i have read all the Gamache novels and look forward to more.i compare these novels to the canadian version of Elizabeth George’s british series.

    • Bettie Westphall says:

      I, too have been a fan of Elizabeth George. I understand why you see a similarly. But, I am more moved by Louise’s work than any other author ever. Perhaps it is finding her late in my life, a time when I ponder what it is all about. I think she expresses in the lives of her characters, perfectly, what gifts we receive from our interactions with others in our way through life.

  7. Rita Conway Seymour says:

    I remember hearing years ago, that you learn something from every book you read. No matter how much I may have learned through the years, I always feel like I’m actually a better person when I finish a Louise Penny book. She is brilliant.

  8. Hébert Lise says:

    Chère Louis,
    Je lis les péripéties de l’inspecteur Gamache depuis le tout début. J’habite au Québec et j’attends la version en français d vos romans, je n’ai donc pas l s référnces à la culture anglophone ( canadienne ou autre) nécessaire pour apprécier tous vos niveaux d’écriture bien que la qualité de traduction me semble excellente.
    Une suggestion: pour apprécier vos références ou clins d’œil à la culture anglophone canadienne entre autre, mettre en apparté, en note en bas de page des informations ou références à l’intention des “fans” francophones. Merci.

  9. Nora Bruemmer says:

    I believe, A Beautiful Mystery, was my introduction to Louise Penny’s wonderful writing. I went on to read the next several in her series, though not right away. As soon as I began, How The Light Gets In, (Leonard Cohen) and then, The Nature of The Beast, I was beyond hooked. I don’t ever want these stories to stop. The characters are so real to me and I’ve loved getting to know them. Having gone back to the beginning with, Still Life, and now, Bury Your Dead, I’m dangerously close to the finish line. Thank God for Glass Houses. Thank you Ms. Penny for the places you take us, for all that your writing teaches us, makes us feel and think about. a wonderful way to learn about history, art, poetry, human nature, acceptance, and on and on.

  10. Claudia says:

    Such warm camaraderie here among folks in the “virtual Bistro.” Folks sharing what has moved them most about visiting 3 Pines and about Louise’s marvelous writings. Not only am I transported to the wonderful village and province when reading these books, I also –literally — was transported for a lovely weeklong visit to the Eastern Provinces last summer, inspired by my having visited telepathically with Gamache et al. Charming and delightful. I am so looking forward to starting the books all over again, from “Still Life” onward

  11. My mother told me she wished she could live in Three Pines. I said she does live in Three Pines. She lives in a small town with a splendid library, an independent bookstore, a cafe run by a gay couple, a few lovely b and b’s, a bakery and a village center with a park.

    I live in a small town with a village park, b and b’s (run by a gay couple) a lovely little library, two coffee shops, many restaurants and cafes, two bakeries, an independent bookstore and a Victorian railroad station.

    You can look where you live and find Three Pines all around you.

  12. Cathryne Spencer says:

    I’m confused. When Therese Brunel looked at Clara’s paintings, “she stopped at one picture. It was of a joyous woman facing forward but looking back.
    ‘She’s beautiful,’ said Therese. ‘Someone I’d like to know.’
    …’The Fall. My God, you’ve painted the Fall. That moment. She’s not even aware of it, is she? Not really, but she sees something, a hint of the horror to come. The Fall from Grace.’
    …Therese looked at her more closely. ‘But there’s something else…It’s you, isn’t it? She’s you.’
    Clara nodded.
    After a moment Therese whispered so that Clara wasn’t even sure the words had been spoken aloud. Maybe it was the wind. ‘What are you afraid of?’
    Clara waited a long time to speak, not because she didn’t know the answer, but because she’d never said it out loud. ‘I’m afraid of not recognizing Paradise.’ ” (A Brutal Telling. Page 366)
    Therese was not looking at a picture of Ruth, she was looking at a picture of Clara. Wasn’t she?

  13. Cathryne Spencer says:

    I’m referring to Paul’s post above, saying: “This is also the point in the book in which Brunel – while examining Clara’s painting of Ruth – exclaims, “The Fall. …” Maybe I misunderstood, Paul, I thought you were saying Ruth was the woman looking back, not Clara. Hmmm. I need clarification, I think.

  14. Cathryne Spencer says:

    This whole post about the Cultural Inspirations for The Brutal Telling has me fascinated. Emily Carr and her story and art have pulled me in much more forcefully than in the past when I’ve read the book (several times!). More tomorrow.

  15. Connie Sargent says:

    I think we have two paintings by Clara and Paul may have confused them. In Brutal Telling, Brunel is looking at The Fall which is of a ”joyous woman” looking back. It’s Clara’s fear that links her to the painting, not, I think that it’s a painting of Clara herself. In Trick of the Light, it’s a portrait of Ruth as the elderly, angry Virgin Mary.

    I love the references and information about Canadian artists in these books. I’ve learned so much! I have a calendar of works by the Group of Seven and love it. And if anyone would like to give a Clarence Gagnon for my birthday, I’d be happy to accept!;) Or perhaps a small sketch by Clara…

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