Still Life, Part 2

Recap (Starting with Chapter 7)

While Chief Inspector Gamache’s team waits for the results of lab tests, he turns to the bookstore, and Myrna, for inspiration and answers. While they talk, he asks about the other woman who died recently, Timmer Hadley, and he realizes Myrna knows more than she’s saying. So, he comes away from that conversation with more questions, and a book that forces him to search for answers in a place that makes him confront another fear. He has to climb to the hunting blind, and he’s afraid of heights. But, it’s there he has a conversation with Clara that opens her eyes that someone local is a killer, and their feelings have been festering.

As Gamache waits, he learns more about the villagers. Ruth Zardo is one of Canada’s most famous poets. And, Clara and the villagers have a different view of the deceased Timmer Hadley than Myrna did. They’ve known Timmer longer, as Ben’s mother, a hateful woman who terrorized her son.

And, as the villagers wait, they once again gather at Clara and Peter’s where they deconstruct the crime, and realizing one of them is a killer, they know someone killed Jane Neal on purpose. Readers who want to continue the series should watch the scenes in which the villagers gather because there are glimpses of their true characters in these moments.

When the lab results come in, the team once again visit the Crofts, where Philippe turns on his father, but Matthew Croft’s confession isn’t enough to convince Gamache of his guilt, and he refuses to arrest him, going against orders. Gamache is suspended, and Beauvoir is forced to take his gun and badge from him.

It’s while attending Jane Neal’s memorial service and reception that Gamache realizes one of his officers lied to him, and didn’t check on Jane Neal’s will. And, when the women of the village hold a prayer ritual, they discover another piece of evidence, an arrow that was still in a tree. That piece of evidence exonerates Matthew Croft, proves Jane Neal really was murdered, and it wasn’t an accident, and brings about the reinstatement of Gamache as officer in charge of the investigation.

And, it was the will, leaving everything to Clara, that opens Jane Neal’s house to the police. They find horrific wallpaper and paint in the house, but, when they look beneath it, they discover Jane Neal’s gift to the community. Her paintings on her walls reveal the history of Three Pines. And, Gamache knows that the murderer was someone on those walls as well.

But, it’s Clara, the artist, who is the first to realize who the killer is. And, her attempt to confront the killer leads to a horrifying scene, and a rescue attempt during a hurricane. The discovery of the murderer would change the villagers forever.

Louise Penny, a master storyteller, foreshadows so many of the relationships and actions in future books when she talks about her characters. Remember the characters, their reactions, their feelings, as you read future books. And, remember Three Pines. “And the pall of grief that settled on this little community was worn with dignity and sadness and a certain familiarity. This village was old, and you don’t get to be old without knowing grief. And loss.”

But, also remember Armand Gamache’s last view of Three Pines. “He looked down at the village and his heart soared. He looked over the rooftops and imagined the good, kind, flawed people inside struggling with their lives….Life was far from harried here. But neither was it still.”

Favorite Quote

Matthew 10:36. “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.”

Conclusion and Discussion Questions

As we read the other books in this series, it’s important to remember what we’ve learned about the characters. Keep in mind what you’ve learned about Gamache, Beauvoir, and Nichol, as well as about the villagers themselves; Clara, Peter, Olivier, Gabri, Ruth and Myrna. And, remember what Louise Penny said. Her books are not really about murder, but what murder dislodges in a community.

In a 2007 interview with author G.M. Malliet, Louise Penny said, “I think of Three Pines as a state of mind. A village occupied by people who have made conscious choices in their lives. Not because they’ve never been hurt, not because they’re too protected, or foolish, or shallow to know that the world can be a dreadful place. No. It’s for that very reason they’ve all made their choices. They’ve all been hurt. As have we all. But when wounded some people become embittered, cynical, sarcastic. They hurt back. But some, and I sometimes think they’re the ones most wounded, make another choice. They know nothing good comes of giving in to our darker instincts. And so they turn to what Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address called, ‘The better angels of our nature.’ Three Pines is a place where kindness trumps cruelty, where people help each other, and care. Where sharing isn’t a word to be laughed at and even an embittered old poet is welcomed.”

1. What happened to the Three Pines community as a result of Jane Neal’s death?

2. Gamache has a fear of heights, and shows unexpected anger. He also refuses a direct order. Do these flaws make him more human, or indicate weakness?

3. What did Clara mean by having “Surprised by Joy” engraved on Jane Neal’s tombstone?

4. Louise Penny says this book is about choice. What did she mean by that?

5. Three Pines is Louise Penny’s ideal village. What is your ideal village like?

6. Penny uses poetry throughout the book. Is there one poem or line that resonates with you?

Lesa HolstineLesa Holstine has been a mystery reader since she was a child when she discovered The Happy Hollisters and Nancy Drew. And, she's been a fan of Louise Penny's work since she first read Still Life in 2006. Today, she continues to review mysteries and other books on her award-winning blog, Lesa's Book Critiques. She's the author of the chapter "Mystery Fiction" in Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (7th ed.). She's been a librarian for over thirty years, and reviews books for journals, as well as her blog. Holstine also discusses books and authors on Twitter @LesaHolstine.

Discussion on “Still Life, Part 2

  1. Meg R says:

    A really, really silly Q: Was leafing through book to review second half & landed on page where I circled Loblaw’s! This was really strange. When I was growing up, my parents did most of their grocery shopping in a store by same name. Don’t remember if spelling was the same or not. We didn’t own a car then, so Dad & I or one of the sibs would go for groceries on Saturdays at Loblaw’s in our small western Pennsylvania city & take them home via taxi. Dad either won $500 or a beautiful service for 12 set of china from one of their contests. The store was bought out some years later by a larger local chain. I never heard of another Loblaw’s until this book. Is/was it a Canadian grocery chain? Never heard of another Loblaw’s in our state – or any where else in US either. Just an unusual coincidence! ;~)

    • Jill collins says:

      When I was young we lived outside of Toronto. I remember my family shopping at Loblaws. I remembered the name as soon as I read it. I think it’s very possible that they had stores in the Northeast. Reading Still Life brought back so many memories of the best part of my childhood.

    • marilyn says:

      I grew up in Western NY State and we always shopped at Loblaw’s. Sorry, dont know if it is a chain or where the headquarters was and anyone that I could ask has left the planet.
      Seeing the name brought up childhood memories for me.

    • Saly Marchessault says:

      I grew up in Schenectady, NY and we had a Loblaws on Union Street. I hadn’t thought about that until I saw your post. It got replaced by another market when I was around 9 but I don’t remember the name of the new one.

    • Rebecca Stirling says:

      Meg, I grew up in a small town in NW Pennsylvania, and we shopped at Loblaw’s in the 50’s. Interesting that it caught your eye, too.

      • Meg R says:

        Rebecca, any where near Butler? Coincidentally – same decade for me too!

        • Margaret Howland says:

          I grew up in Western PA too… in Indiana, PA. Now I live 40 miles from Schenectady. We’re all neighbors! Hummm — lots of hills and secluded valleys in western PA… we could create a Three Pines.

    • Karen I Ford says:

      I grew up in Western NY State where my father was a manufacturer’s rep for a food company, Loblaw’s was one of his customers. I know we did a great deal of our shopping there and at the A&P, as they were our neighborhood grocery stores.

    • Julie says:

      I grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Loblaws was where my parents shopped for groceries, every Friday night after work. I remember a sort of joke I heard a lot as a young adult about Bob Loblaw, completely consisting of how fun it is to say that aloud…

    • Linda M says:

      Loblaws….I grew up in Syracuse NY, it was here too, as a huge distribution warehouse, so not just in Canada, I’m sure others in this part of the country know it as well. Growing up here there are many references in these wonderful books (esp about the snow) that hit close to home. As much as I love the people in Three Pines, I think I love the place itself, the weather, the animals, etc. for me this is pretty much a perfect set of books!! Thanks for creating them for all of us!

    • JoAnn Hunter says:

      Me too: Loblaw’s, 40’s, Williamsville, New York. I hadn’t thought of that for years.

    • Diane says:

      HI Meg, We had several “Loblaws” in Erie, Pa when I was growing up. About 2 years ago, the last one was torn down…economics! But, Wegmans has take over. Interesting. Nice to meet you.

    • Nancy Napierala says:

      My mother shopped at Loblaws in Buffalo, NY in the 1940-50s. She always said it was a Canadian chain. We are right across the bridge from Canada, and my elders always said Canada was more refined than the U.S.

  2. Meg, From Loblaw’s website – Yes, they are a Canadian chain. “Loblaw Companies Limited is Canada’s food and pharmacy leader, the nation’s largest retailer, and the majority unitholder of Choice Properties Real Estate Investment Trust. Loblaw provides Canadians with grocery, pharmacy, health and beauty, apparel, general merchandise, banking, and wireless mobile products and services. With more than 2,300 corporate, franchised and Associate-owned locations, Loblaw, its franchisees, and Associate-owners employ approximately 192,000 full- and part-time employees, making it one of Canada’s largest private sector employers.”

    • Meg R says:

      Wow! Thanks, Lesa. I had absolutely no idea it is/was that large of a chain. One I knew was just pretty basic grocery – unlike chains today with pharmacies, banks, floral shop, bakeries etc. in them. Never knew it was an international company as I only knew and heard of the one in our little city.

      • Ros B says:

        Re: Loblaws – it’s my local supermarket and I’m in to a Loblaws to do shopping several times a week. Great product line. I like the local references. Too often Canadian literature and even more, films, try to pretend that they’re set in the USA instead of here and I find that quite annoying.

    • blf says:

      Down here in Newfoundland, Loblaws is Dominion….

  3. Maureen Matejka says:

    Three Pines felt vulnerable after Jane’s death, especially when it was ruled murder. Houses were not locked and trust and respect for your neighbors was evident. There was also sadness and loss at one of their own. They had memories of Jane Neal that someone not living in Three Pines could have. Grief was pervasive. A feeling of disbelief that a murder could occur in their little piece of heaven.

  4. Penny Schmitt says:

    Choices: The main ‘choice’ demonstrated in the novel seems to be the choice either to grow or to ‘become still’. Nichol, Ben Hadley, Yolande, Peter are all pretty tempted to lead ‘still lives’ unchanged by any learning experiences. The Crofts are in a log jam because their son does not want to let them in on what he is learning as he grows up.
    The flexible people also have some learning to do and choices to make. I noticed that EVERYONE suffered errors made because of ‘projection’ (assuming other people are thinking about and responding to the world the way you would ‘if you were in their shoes.’ Both Clara and Gamache make the error of imagining that others are operating from the same ground of warmth and affection that would influence them. They miss important clues because they are too generous to see how cold and manipulative at least one other person really is.
    Penny recognizes that this is a quality that is a GOOD thing, yet can have difficult results. That’s a very mature, and I really respect her for facing up to it. Not only are our foes those of our own household, but our kindest attitudes can blind us to the enmity in the hearts of our fellow men and women.

    • Marsha Williams says:

      Your comment about Clara and Gamache making assumptions reminded me of this quote from The Kite Runner -“And that’s the thing about people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too.”
      ― Khaled Hosseini

    • Katie says:

      I like your way of using still life to describe those characters who wish not to be flexible but instead to have things stay as they are. I of course thought the title STILL LIFE referred to paintings, but this is a different way of seeing it.

      • Michele H. says:

        Katie-you bring up a good point…but we know that people often “see” what they want to see. There are signs that can be misinterpreted, especially if the viewer has a good heart and assumes that the people around her/him have the same outlook on life. Prime example are the horrible killings that have occurred in our schools, work places and social areas. In retrospect, victims or neighbors come forward with accounts that eventually add up to demonstrate disturbing traits in the perpetrator.

      • Judith Barnes says:

        Katie, I also thought the title, “Still Life,” would refer to art. The cover on my paperback certainly supports it. I highlighted Ben’s comment on page 304 about the ones who lead “still” lives. “The ones who aren’t growing and evolving, who are standing still.”

    • Kim Bodnarchuk says:

      Clara projected her values onto Ben, to such an extent that she ignored the actual, hard evidence about Timmer’s goodness and kindness. Most of us want to think of our friends as having a consonant value system. But, as an observant and intuitive person, it does seem strange that there wouldn’t have been some nigglings of doubt about Ben’s view of his mother.

      • Maureen O'Connor says:

        Forgive me for jumping in late here, and perhaps this point has already been made. (I wanted to finish the re-reading of the book before I could participate.) This comment refers to the notion of Clara’s believing Ben’s version of his mother. I know from personal experience how easy it is to take on the views of someone you’re close to and whom you trust. Because you believe you’re alike, you believe they will think as you do and vice versa, and that what they say is authentic and true. It’s only later, when that closeness disappears that the veil might fall from the eyes and reveal the truth. It certainly gives one pause, wondering how it was possible not to be thinking for oneself, but actually to take as truth everything that other person said. So, for me, it was quite believable that Clara would automatically believe Ben.

        • Marcy says:

          As I read through the second time, I was trying to figure out how Clara would actually think that there were snakes in the Timmer’s house. Ruth reminds her (p.365) that Timmer “had you over for dinners.” That would be in the house that had snakes in it, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t Clara ever mention the snakes to another villager? I know that, if I heard something that bizarre, I’d probably ask someone: “did you know there are snakes in that house?” “Jane, Timmer asked us to dinner — is the house safe?” That, for me, was such a stretch, and I still couldn’t figure it out on the second reading.

    • bonita says:

      I was struck by the comments on choice. I suddenly wanted to put the quotes on little post-it notes…and then I remembered it to be like psycho-drival. However, in re-reading I found more comfort in the concept. It was a description of reality. Even not choosing is a choice. The concept didn’t suggest a hierarchy of choices. They are simply other paths.

      • KMcD says:

        Bonita. I like your comment “They are simply other paths”. Seems that too often choices get a negative context. Choices can be limited and they can be expanded by willingness to see additional paths. Ben and Yvette limit themselves and their choices. Clara chooses to be positive and view her prospects as an artist with more choices and tries many forms for her art.

        • blf says:

          Choices are also limited to percieved options. Often people will only believe that they have one or two options when making decisions.

    • Linda says:

      I was struck by how much more I got out of the second reading. I think the still lives bit went right over my head the first time. But it was so clear this time. Especially with Agent Nichol who looks in the mirror with the saying “You’re looking at the problem.” and looks behind her to see what the words are talking about. Wow! I rarely re-read books, but these books are well worth it. Love the idea to re-read them all!

      • Betty B says:

        I first read Still Life soon after it was published. As I was rereading it for this discussion, I found all the references to a still life so thought-provoking. I previously thought the title Still Life referred to the art but now I see a still life as a major theme of the book. I live in Texas with all our crazy weather, but no pines and wonderful snow, no mountains and woods. I want to live in Three Pines and be Myrna with her wonderful book store, and her wisdom and ability to offer such wonderful counseling and support to her neighbors and friends.

        • Phyllis Ross says:

          Betty, We actually do have pines in Texas Bastrop, TX with a Lost Pines State Park, but of course the cold and snow are very seldom there more like 100 and above. I would also like to live in 3 Pines and in a way I do. LIVE IS GOOD.

      • Terry says:

        Couldn’t agree more! I totally missed the still lives led by some and it’s consequences. And the perceptions about Timmer also ring true when I consider a good friend who’s perception of her Mother does not agree with others. In fact my own perceptions of my Mother have changed greatly as I’ve grown (not that it was ever as negative as Ben’s). And of course one of the clues for me was the opinions of others so opposed to mine.

      • Jane Kane says:

        I, too, am loving there-reading. I am seeing so much more this second time. i already know I am going to love re-reading all the books. I thought I loved them before–but it’s even better the second time around.

    • Sherry says:

      I picked up so much with the reread that I didn’t get the first time through. I read the books out of sequence by mistake so this has given me a new look on things. Your comments have added another view of the story that I hadn’t thought about. Thank You

    • Kristien Graffam says:

      I don’t think Gamache and Clara’s way of thinking is so much an error as a decision or choice, if you will. They are not naïve but decided to think of people as inherently good. I think in Clara’s case this is more an emotional than intellectual decision. And I see Gamache as this wonderful, good, intelligent man who treats everybody fairly.

  5. Katherine Butler says:

    Having written poetry my whole life, I have a deep love for the form and cadences inherent in the genre. I savor the metaphoric ease most often used in poetry. Consequently, it is with great joy that I read and reread Ruth Zardo’s lines in each of the author’s Gamache novels:
    “Who hurt you once
    so far beyond repair
    that you would greet each overture
    with curling lip?”
    Ruth epitomizes for me the tragically flawed character — the Antigone of Three Pines. As we see her character unfold over the series of books, we are in tune with the deep feelings she has for her village and its people, as well as for the “outsiders” in the form of Armand Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir, despite the fact that she appears to disdain them all through her words. It’s her deeds, however, that place her among the great characters of literature. I feel that her so-called betrayal of Jane Neal by telling the latter’s parents about her plan to elope with the lumberjack was done, as Ruth said, out of love and in her friend’s best interest. I also believe that she has spent a lifetime feeling sorrow for that betrayal. I love the image of her and Jane as old stick figures hugging one another. I hope sincerely that Louise will go more into Ruth’s back story in her upcoming books.
    In regards to Three Pines, the village becomes, for the moment at least, a place, not of refuge, but of danger. The primitive nature of the killing of Jane Neal makes the murder even more chilling than had she been shot by a gun or poisoned. In later books, the author makes note of the darkness of the forest around Three Pines, and even the staid and brave Gamache has fears when confronting that area. The people who inhabit this quiet and out-of-the-way place begin to lock their doors at night where they had not felt the necessity to do so before this beloved woman was killed. In addition, in such a close-knit community, they would have to know that the killer was a person among them, someone they loved or admired or had known for years. And the motive for the crime is among one of the oldest known to man. Does knowledge of our innate ability to do evil change us?

    • Allison says:

      Katherine, I agree with you on the poetry choice…Ruth’s writing
      “Who hurt you once
      so far beyond repair
      that you would greet each overture
      with curling lip?”
      It reminds me how easy it is to take offense or pre-judge the most innocent of inquiries or concern….and how that way of living is not one of joy, but is one of exhaustion, which Ruth exemplifies.

      When I think about how much Jane Neal hid from others (never letting anyone beyond the kitchen), I wonder if this is in some part her response to something like these words that may have happened long ago.

  6. Dennis A. Matejka says:

    I am reading this series for the first time, so please don’t comment much on this issue if it will spoil future books. Inspector Gamache came across to me as a pretty unpleasant guy in his dealing with Agent Nichols. Gruffly pulling her aside and telling her to get on the next bus, etc. I felt like I was in the middle of a high school group where a teacher didn’t like me and was out to get me! He seems like a strange protagonist compared with the image I had developed just from word-of-mouth about the series. I’m not sure how an entire set of novels can be successful with someone who doesn’t seem in the least warm and fuzzy! Just curious.

    • LJ Roberts says:

      Stick with it, please, Dennis. Trust me, your view of Gamache will change. Remeber, too, the four statements of wisdom he tried to teach her:
      1. I’m sorry
      2. I don’t know
      3. I need help
      4. I was wrong
      They are important.

      • Well said LJ! Gamache is something we seldom see in a mystery of any kind caring and really human. He makes mistakes, but ones that often lead him to answers, too. Over reading the whole series I found him unfolding and becoming even more humane instead of less in so many ways but also very intuitive about the people who serve with him and those in Three Pines.

      • Meg R says:

        Yup, L.J. I agree with you. Dennis, are you identifying with Nichol a tad here? We have to remember that he IS her boss, He is and has been the head of the homicide division of the Surete for ages & is the experienced investigator and team manager. He has chosen whom he wants to be a part of his team and chose her as a trainee. This little tootsie is so like many adolescents and some young twenty-year-olds who haven’t grown out of the know-it-all stage or beyond their idea that the universe revolves around them! Gamache genuinely has been trying to teach and train Nichol as he has done with other members of his unit. He IS her “boss.” He’d be derelict as her superior if he did not clue her in on errors that endanger the investigation. There are times when one has to be brutally direct and honest to get a point across to someone who has no concept of subtlety.

        Just finished reading Kathleen George’s “The Johnstown Girls”, about the huge flood there in the late 1800’s. One of her characters comments about another: “”The biggest problem with (him) was that he was not intelligent; as a thinker, he could not include contradictions. He was a stuck man, depending on something outside himself always to get him throught any situation. He looked like a man, acted like a man, but h was emotionally a child.”

        When I read this, Nichol came to mind – as well as a few other characters in this Penny story. What do you think?

        • Penny Schmitt says:

          Excellent observation and wonderful quotation. Thank you.

        • Michele H. says:

          Meg R…totally agree with your summation. There are times when a person in charge has to make the decisions Gamache has made and he was spot-on with hustling Nicole out of Three Pines for the reasons you stated. There are plenty of young adults who act responsibly. Nicole and her family situation have influenced her personality, yet she has chosen to view the world in that self-centered way. Others have experienced far worse than Nicole, yet thrive and contribute to the world in ways that show great maturity.

        • KMcD says:

          Meg, absolutely, I agree with your comments and especially appreciate the quote.

        • Susan Kelley says:

          Another example of a ‘still life’!

      • Ovidia Yu says:

        Alas here I think Nichol implemented too seriously what she took for the 4th rule “I forget”

        In her reacting to Gamache and Beauvoir she reminded me of Philippe Croft acting up to his parents, using anger and resentment and emotional blackmail to keep them at a distance.

        But like the others say, please do stick with it–Gamache definitely grows on you (though I already like / love him here)

      • Nancy N. says:

        Nicole has the father at home, who has isolated himself with lies, and presumes to pull strings on his daughter with a modern-day hook, the cell phone. It is such a relief when Gamache sends her home – probably the only way to get her attention, who is so wrapped up with her own self-doubt that she is incapable of doing her job. Gamache makes himself his agents’ teacher as much as their boss, but his priority and sympathy is with the people who have been visited by a murderer. He seems to want to restore order among them after he has disturbed them with his investigation. I like that the murderer, once discovered, is quickly whisked off the scene. Then we see that the people of Three Pines can once again seek for balance.

      • Allison says:

        LJ these are my second favourite poetry of the book – and good to think about in my non-fiction life.

        Dennis, I actually think Gamache was pretty kind to Nichol. As a junior on the team it would be her role to learn and not work so hard on impressing (which backfires) and certainly not influence the course of interviews. Gamache is honest, even when it is uncomfortable. In the long run, that is a kindness to Yvette who doesn’t yet realize all she needs to learn.

    • Susan says:

      Funny, I see Gamache as very warm and fuzzy like someone’s grandfather. He had taken on the “damaged” cops because he sees not flaws but talents. Agent Nichols is but one example where I believe he was angered by her inability to shift her thinking, not just to his way but to the team way.

      • Katie says:

        This info about Gamache doesn’t get known to us readers until a later book (that he takes on the ones that others find difficult). In Still Life Gamache isn’t too kind toward Agent Nichol when she screws up by not paying attention to his advice. Through most of the books I see Nichol as a thorn in his side, yet he continues to try working with her.

      • Karen Gast says:

        Perhaps he was also angry with himself that he could not reach her.

    • Amanda Hecht says:

      As the series unfolds, and you get more of the story of Jean- Guy and Isabel LaCoste (trying not for spoilers, so won’t say more), you will see that Gamache indeed is a kind person. At one point in this book, however, he warns Nichol not to mistake his kindness for weakness. And so it is-I think Nichol had multiple chances, but could not overcome her weaknesses. Gamache shows her more kindness than most, the way I read him.

    • Kathryn Jost says:

      As I didn’t originally read the books in order I have quite different opinions of the characters that you have mentioned. I feel Gamache is about as warm and fuzzy as they come and poor Nichol is almost the opposite, cold, detached, uncooperative and sulky. At one later point she actually lies to Gamache! I agree with LJ Roberts about sticking with the books as you see them through the other stories and watch the characters develop. It’s almost like a friendship that you have with anyone…the more you learn about them, the more you like them and the more valuable the relationship becomes.

    • Elina says:

      Please soldier on…sometimes all is not what it appears to be!

    • Penny Schmitt says:

      I sense that you are sympathizing with Yvette Nichol, something that MANY of us find hard to do. Well, go ahead and feel for her, but realize that Gamache is the person here who has maturity and insight. He is the ‘father’ the ‘boss’ and indeed the person who knows best. Tough with Nichol? Yes. And she has ‘asked for it’ with her immaturity and blind arrogance. A true leader must at times be tough. With people who do not present a teachable attitude, sometimes the leader must be firm and even a bit harsh. Trust me, she has much to learn, and she needs to listen to what Gamache can teach. So do we all. I recommend sitting still and letting him be your teacher for a while.

      • Tina deBellegarde says:

        I agree with you. I think our attitudes toward the characters stem from how we relate to them/what we see in them that we recognize in ourselves and others. I believe that I relate to Gamache because I am his age, and because I have been a teacher and a supervisor. He is the kind of mentor we all aspire to be. Yvette’s character is a classic young, overzealous person who wants to put her best foot forward but misunderstands how to do it and as a result missteps and projects the blame on others when she does so. Her inexperience is not her fault but her arrogance is but both her inexperience and arrogance are a result of her age and we can forgive her that as long as she eventually makes some progress and grows. As a mentor to others (as most of us have been in the course of our lives) we have all encountered Yvettes and the reality is that a good mentor must use a combination of kindness and firmness to in order to usher young people to realize their own potentials. I think if a reader is relating to Yvette over Gamache it is because s/he is still stinging from some of life’s difficult lessons. Think of the student who blames the teacher for the bad grade or considers the teacher “mean.” By the way, it is often these same students who come back and thank their mentors and are the most appreciative when the lessons eventually sink in. They come to realize how difficult they have been and want us to know how happy they are that we stuck it out and continued to try to help them through.

    • Linda Maday says:

      Gamache is a kind and “fuzzy” sort. He usually sees the best in others. Even in this book he is described as always trying to help those that others dismiss. However, he can be impatient when those he supervises refuse to listen to him. He is impatient with those that are cruel or callouse with others.

      I do think though that as a group we tend to believe he is perfect, when he really is not. Better than most, but still human. A good soul that tries, more than most, to listen not only to others, but also to his own great heart.

      • Not so much fuzzy, but so much less hard boiled. He has a grounding that is in love from his wife and daughter in ways that to me are more real than most mysteries I’ve read.

    • marilyn says:

      But he is warm and fuzzy–he is accustomed to dealing with young recruits who are somewhat problematic. I see his treatment of Nichol as a way of evaluating the situation. After all, she wasn’t exactly warm and fuzzy either.

    • Kim Bodnarchuk says:

      I didn’t feel this way about Nichol being summarily sent home. She was given the opportunity to work in a new (and more important) area. She was told to watch and listen and take notes. (Watch and learn, grasshopper.) She was given the 4 keys. And she was given a fairly simple and straightforward job to do. She needed to impress more than she wanted to learn so she spoke when she ought to have been silent. She was full of self importance and so she denigrated the worth of others on her team. She couldn’t admit that she didn’t know how to do her simple task, so she lied to cover it up. She couldn’t be trusted not to unravel and dismantle the work of the team so there was no choice but to send her away in a manner that left no room for argument.

    • Jan Cox says:

      As time goes on, you will understand “tough love” was very important. Gamache is loyal and steadfast, but it isn’t always apparent….until it is.

    • bonita says:

      One of the joys of th I s series is the character development. No one is perfect. None without blemish. I feel you have found the imperfection…that fits into the package. Read on, and know that there is integrity even in the midst of complexity.

      • Jane Fricker says:

        I agree, Bonita. One of the joys of reading the book is the way that the characters are developed. Having said that, I want to address the question of choices that are made. It’s very clear that Yvette Nichol makes a lot of bad choices, but she’s not the only one whose choices reveal a lot about her. We see the relationship between Peter and Clara being affected by choices as well. Penny often describes Peter as retreating to “his island” –meaning, I think, that this is when he makes himself emotionally unavailable to Clara. Clara also makes some choices that might be questionable, like not sharing certain information with Peter. Her most egregious choice, though, in my view, is revealed much later when Ruth questions her about why she chose to think badly of Timmer Hadley, based solely on the testimony of Ben, when she and Peter had been recipients of Timmer’s generosity. No one else seems to have picked up on this next point, but I wonder about Jean Guy and his choice to shut out Nichol. Yes, she’s young and immature, but he could have made a difference by trying to be more like an older brother/mentor to her. It doesn’t mean that she would have listened to him any better, but at least he would have tried instead of always looking at her so critically. One of the more moving scenes in the book is when characters of the village choose to help Olivier and Gabri clean up their bistro after a set of young hoodlums threw manure all over it. We have the observation of Ruth, seen in this instance as surprisingly helpful as she kneels to help clean up, even through the pain she clearly felt. This tells us a lot about how the villagers relate to each other.

    • Linda says:

      He had been patient with her. She kept disobeying his orders. He told her that there would be consequences if she behaved like that one more time. She didn’t listen.

    • Peggy Dalberto says:

      be patient Dennis, and don’t let the little girl image of Nicol bring out the “protector” in you! She as appeared to me as the bitchy girl in Jr High who never was in a group but certainly could hurt you. She has a complex personality, and remember how Gamache tried to show her a possible “future” for her by having her sit in on an interview w/Ruth. Nicol was oblivious to how her treatment of people mimicked the older Ruth’s. Just saying……

    • blf says:

      I have read through the comments about Gamache and there were many descriptions like warm and fuzzy but I see him as being very professional and in his decision to send Nichol home was ensuring the integrity of the case. He has very specific standards when working on a case and will not allow those standards to be compromised.

      • Helen o. Hartman says:

        Your insights into nichol are al very true, but I think that one or maybe the most important reason for firing her was that she was unpardonable rude, twice after having been warned about it.

  7. But was Ben living just a still life? He has been creating such divisions, especially for Peter and Clara, that they don’t see clearly. His hatred controlled all of his actions. I was surprised again, rereading Ruth’s comments, on ” Who bought your art, invited you to dinner, etc..’ Clara goes through the biggest change of the community, while Peter shrivels. I see Peter as the living victim of Ben. Ben sowed seeds of destruction there.

    • Kim Bodnarchuk says:

      But Ben’s life was still – based on his mantra: “I am entitled to more. I didn’t get it because I was hard done by.” A stone cast into a pond creates ripples even though it lies still on the bottom.

    • Jane Fricker says:

      Well put, Myra. I guess one way to look at Ben is that “Still life” in his case means that he has chosen not to grow up and act like an adult, or be ready to take on adult responsibilities. It doesn’t mean that he can’t be actively toxic, as in his relationship towards Peter and Clara. I guess I’m trying to say that inwardly, in his soul, Ben is “still” rather than growing. I don’t know that if I’d been one of the villagers that I would have been able to figure out how much of a liar Ben was unless I’d been around long enough to know his mother and some of her friends. Let’s not forget, either, that Ben is a good actor and excellent liar, so there’s lots of room for him to do damage.

  8. Rhonda Collins says:

    What I am enjoying about this novel is that each character is flawed in some way, but yet when they draw together the group functions so much better as a result. They bring out the best by not downplaying these flaws. If only real life were more like this.

  9. MB says:

    (#6) I agree with Katherine Butler’s comment above. There is something haunting about “Who hurt you once / so far beyond repair / that you would greet each overture / with curling lip?” I would like to know more about Ruth Bardo, and I hope Louise Penny will give us more of her story in future books.

    • Rebecca Stirling says:

      Yes, MB, I agree about that line of poetry. It is very meaningful and moving. I would love a book of Ruth’s poems.

      • Joyce Petrina says:

        I would love a book if Ruth’s poems too. When will LP be recognized for her poetry ? :)

        • Patricia Dilks says:

          I’m not certain about the ‘who hurt you …’ poem, but I do know that a great deal of the poetry is from Margaret Atwood and from Leonard Cohen’s song lyrics. Learning this made me want to learn more about/read more of those two creative people, and has enriched the whole reading experience of Louise’s books.

      • Melissa says:

        Yes, please! A book of Ruth’s poems!!

      • Ovidia Yu says:

        Yes please to a collection of Ruth’s poems!

    • Jacqui says:

      A book of Ruth’s poems would be wonderful.

  10. Laura says:

    1. I love the title of this book. Although there was a murderer among them, and the villagers begin to exercise caution born from fear, locking their doors, there is still life there, they carry on.

    2. A fear of heights is a protection, not really a weakness, as I see it, and anger is a reaction. As for disobeying that order, I don’t see that as a weakness or a flaw, but as Gamache’s need to follow the case to the end.

    3. Wordsworth’s poem, Surprised by Joy, is about grief at the loss of a loved one. Clara, impatient as the wind, would always miss Jane.

    SURPRISED by joy–impatient as the Wind
    I turned to share the transport–Oh! with whom
    But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
    That spot which no vicissitude can find?
    Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind–
    But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
    Even for the least division of an hour,
    Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
    To my most grievous loss?–That thought’s return
    Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore, 10
    Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
    Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
    That neither present time, nor years unborn
    Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

    4. So many choices made in this book! Each character’s actions are predicated on choice, Jane’s choice to keep her art secret, Gamache’s choice to disobey, Nichol’s choice not to check on the will and then to lie. And, of course, Ben’s choices, from killing his mother, killing Jane, trying to fix the painting. If he had not done that, would he have got away with murder? People make choices a zillion times a day, so it saddens me that the word has become politicized in this country. This so diminishes its scope.

    5. I could live in Three Pines if it had a yarn shop too, but I would miss the internet. My ideal village has some good places to eat, a library, a bookstore, a yarn shop, a farmers market, internet access, a body of water, preferably moving, (I’d like a river more than the ocean), a good plumber, a good electrician, and a handyman who, when called, can come work within the week.

    6. “Greet each overture with curling lip” is such a great image, applicable to dogs and teenagers. I think of Nicol when I read it. Taken in a greater context, The whole sentence is so sad, “Who hurt you once…” So sad, but so unforgettable.

    • Rebecca Stirling says:

      CS Lewis lost his wife to cancer, and her name was Joy. The movie Shadowlands is based on that part of his life.

    • Laura,
      You said it exactly quoting the poem. I believe that is what Clara is saying. I so agree with you on so much you said, but would like to add that we all make choices daily. So how do they affect others first and then our lives? I think we look at how it would affect us, but seldom how they affect others, even some we aren’t close too. My example would be how child abuse affects all in our lives, but also in all the lives of those we touch as well.

    • Meg R says:

      Laura, Thank you for “Surprised by Joy.” I didn’t know this one and you enriched this old broad’s understanding of Clara’s choice for Jane’s tombstone.

    • Ovidia Yu says:

      Thank you Laura, I learned a lot from your post.

    • Rebecca Stirling says:

      Oh yes, Laura. Include a yarn shop!! What wonderful people and discussions would happen there! Three Pines folk need winter, snowed-in activity!!

    • Jill collins says:

      I’m more than willing to run the yarn shop. Three Pines also needs a weaving shop. I love your suggestion.

      • Patricia Dilks says:

        Fiber arts would fit so well into Three Pines — not only the craft and those who make it, but the very nature of the contemplative and creative aspects would be so complementary. I’ve made the suggestion on Louise’s FB page, and hopefully our collective voices will have a positive effect.

    • Alyce says:

      Thank you for the explanation re Surprised by Joy, Laura. It had me baffled, thought I had missed something in my reading. Thanks very much for posting the whole poem, it’s lovely.

    • Karin T. says:

      Nix the Internet. Not having it is a large part of why Three Pines is special. Life is more intimate in that you have to talk to people, not email or text. You can hear their voice and the tone and the pauses..all of which express emotion and therefore establish an intimacy.

  11. MB says:

    (#2) I think Gamache’s weaknesses make him more human. The Leonard Cohen song, Anthem, referenced in the title of book 9, has the lines “There’s a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” I think it’s necessary to show Gamache’s “cracks” so that we realize that much of his understanding of human nature has been shaped by his his own flaws. He understands the villagers’ weaknesses, because he has his own, and so he is better able to extend compassion and understanding. His weaknesses are also vulnerabilities, though, that can be exploited by others.

    • Katie says:

      A police chief who admits to human frailities is a rarity these days. Most are like robocops.

    • Kim Bodnarchuk says:

      All real people have a fear of something. Fear is not equivalent to weakness. Fear can have a purpose – keeping us alive and whole. Fear is only weakness when it paralyzes so that we don’t act in a way that is consistent with our morals, values, and purpose. Gamache is afraid of heights, yet he climbs the tree to do what he has to. He does not order Beauvoir, Nichol or Lacoste to check out the blind. Being afraid and acting anyway is the definition of courage.

      In the same way, refusing to follow a direct order is the definition of courage when you know that the order is wrong. Following orders blindly has led to so much evil in the world. Gamache did what he believed to be right, even when he knew the consequences would be serious. He had the grace to discuss it with his wife, knowing that she would share those consequences.

  12. SusieJ says:

    Yes, Three Pines is, for the time present, a place of danger, but even midst this there is a STILL life and once all is known and resolved, a still life still goes on. It is such a lovely place – an idealization – almost a still life painting of a setting with the three pines as it’s gateway

  13. Kathleen says:

    Q1. Three Pines suddenly had to face violence in there community. A small community wondering who is a murderer and why and are they next. Threatened their freedom and sense of security.
    Q2. I do not think Gamache is weak at all. His fear of heights did surprise me but I understand that kind of fear, I have claustrophobia. My believe has been that Gamache has so much integrity that he values people and what is right above all else. His refusal to arrest Croft and refusing a direct order when he knew it was wrong demonstrates his integrity. Even his treatment of Nichol, considering some of the this she said to him, fellow officers not to mention the folks in Three Pines, I see Gamache’s actions towards as protecting others from her anger. He is her boss after all and she has to suffer the same consequences that Gamache had to face disobeying a direct order.
    Q3. I think Clara chose that line as a tribute to the love she would always feel for Jane and how much she would miss her.
    Q4. I think that everyday of our lives is about choice. Just as Gamache chose to disobey orders, Nichol chose to disregard Gamache’s advice and warnings. Jane’s choice to hide her talent and then before being killed choosing to share it. Each one of us every make choices all the time from the tiniest of importance to the biggest of importance. It shapes our lives.
    Q5. Three Pines residents are exactly my ideal village, however since I hate the cold, it would have to be on a warm island, like Jamaica?
    Q6. I’d have to agree with the others. The poem written by Ruth “Who hurt you once” This is very powerful. So many people all over the world that have been hurt and that hurt has contributed to who they are today, positive and negative.

  14. Andrea says:

    I was surprised by how much I discovered in this, my third rereading of Still Life. Obviously I had galloped over so many wonderful things as I charged along following the action.

    I was startled to realize, as Lesa points out, just how much foreshadowing of later books there is, in both actual references (the Arnot case) but also in the actions and motivations and qualities of the various characters.

    I was aware again of just how much wisdom and how much joy is packed into this book, as well as all the others (“…ultimately it’s us and our choices. But, but — now her eyes shone and she almost vibrated with excitement — ‘the most powerful, spectacular thing is that the solution rests with us as well.'”).

    And although Louise’s humor is of the kind I love best, I found I’d missed all sorts of delicious tidbits that were waiting to be discovered this time through (“Now, can I interest you in a glass of wine, or perhaps a chandelier?” “The people gathered around waiting to ask where the Japanese garden was were left to wonder just how wide a mandate these volunteers had.”)

    Such a pleasure to reread the books in good company!

    • marilyn says:

      Yes, I agree that the re-reading is such an enlightenment–I can’t believe I missed so much.!

    • Ovidia Yu says:

      I so agree about the re-read ‘in company’. I thought I knew the books pretty well but I’m finding so much depth and detail from a slow reading as well as from the comments here!

    • Linda says:

      Yes, loving this re-read in good company. It’s become abundantly clear to me that there’s much to be savored in these books.

    • Wendy Rawson says:

      I love your reference, Andrea, to charging along following the action! I am really enjoying the re-read and having the chance to spend more time wandering around Three Pines. I was very conscious of galloping through the books first time round and knew I was missing things.

  15. Katie says:

    Concerning choices – isn’t that what life is, a series of choices? God gave us free choice and the choices we make determine who we are/become. The choices Louise Penny’s characters make define what sort of people they are and determine what actions they will take next. However, we also have the choice to make changes in who we are by facing ourselves and learning to behave differently. Nobody’s character is set in stone. This is why I hate the way prisons handle prisoners. More needs to be done in the area of rehabilitation. Vocations should be taught. Prisoners should learn how to make an honest living when they get out, and should be motivated to do so.

    • marilyn says:

      Yes, but I wonder how to motivate those who have no interest. Motivation has to come from inside I believe but you are right that life is a series of choices and changes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *