A Trick of the Light, Part 1


We all love those scenes where Gamache meets a new officer of the Sûreté and instead of overawing them he shows kindness and curiosity. It was like this for me when I met Louise Penny, the Chief Inspector of our publishing adventures together in Canada.

We at Raincoast had just signed on to help with book promotion in Canada, it was the middle of June and A Trick of the Light was publishing in August. Not much time.

I spoke briefly with Louise but confessed that I could not talk for long as I was about to go to a Father’s Day Tea at my son’s preschool. When we spoke again, the first thing she asked about wasn’t our plans to promote her, but my son and our Tea. She asked about all the children, about the dads and most importantly about the children whose dads could not attend—how did the those kids feel? It was a Gamache-like exhibition of thoughtful perception. This time we had a lengthy telephone call—we did have lots of plans to help promote Louise and I can talk about my son for a long, long time. But like that junior officer of the Sûreté, now felt I was part of something special.

That Christmas Louise sent a paint-by-numbers kit. And my son said; “Daddy, we can use this to make another world.” To my ears it sounded like something that Clara’s character would say, and like Clara would have, we have kept the paintbrush from the paint set—a lovely gift given by a remarkable woman, who knows so very much about the nature of true friendship. Someday my son will read the Gamache Series and understand even better.

Recap (Chapters 1-9)

“Oh, no, no, no thought Clara Morrow as she walked towards the closed doors.” This is how Louise Penny begins A Trick of the Light.

Clara is about to walk through the door of the ultra-chic, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal for her vernissage, a private party where artists celebrate with friends, clients, patrons and even critics before their exhibitions open to the public. Reputations and egos are glossed not paintings. Despite the party being given for her, Clara feels nothing but dread. She has achieved her dream of a solo show at the “MAC”, but what if the critics and gallery owners hate her work?

Clara falls to the ground and it is Olivier Brulé, not her husband Peter, who gets down on the floor beside her “whether it’s on your knees or on your feet, you’re going through that door. It might as well be on your feet.” And so she gets up and we go through the door and into the novel.

The novel then moves to the Gamache family, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his beloved wife Reine-Marie are sitting in their Outremont apartment reading the L’Observateur and La Presse respectively. They and their daughter, Annie, are awaiting her huband, David’s arrival.

But Armand’s magazine reading is really just a stalling tactic his wife points out. He seems reluctant to rejoin his friends of Three Pines at the vernissage and to face Olivier to whom he has already apologized for his part in his Olivier’s wrongful conviction.

The real emotional center to the chapter, in my opinion, lies in the conversation between Jean Guy Beauvoir, Armand’s number two, and Gamache’s daughter, Annie, as they wait. Beauvoir thinks back to his time in hospital, after the disastrous factory raid described in Bury Your Dead , when it was Annie, not his now ex-wife Enid, who affirmed his will to live. “[Annie] had placed her hand in his and it had changed everything . . . this hand was large and certain and warm. And it invited him back.”

Jean Guy and Annie talk about the difficulty of true forgiveness and why Olivier has not forgiven Gamache.

Chapter two returns to the vernissage, beyond Clara’s crises at the door and we now eavesdrop on the reactions to Clara’s paintings from artists, critics and friends.

Armand and the art dealer, Francois Marois, are the most observant of the actual paintings on the wall and in particular the centerpiece, Clara’s portrait of Ruth Zardo as the aged Virgin Mary that we have come to know from previous books.

“Clara’s portrait wasn’t simply of an angry old woman. She had in fact painted the Virgin Mary. Elderly. Abandoned by a world weary and wary of miracles. A world too busy to notice the stone rolled back.”

Then finally at the end of the scene, with Gamache and Marois still deep in conversation the description is completed:

“But there was something else. A vague suggestion in those weary eyes. Not even seen really. More a promise. A rumour in the distance.

Amid all the brush strokes, all the elements all the color and nuance in the portrait, it came down to one tiny detail. A single white dot.

In her eyes.

Clara Morrow had pained the moment despair became hope.”

Or did she? On this question so much of the novel will pivot on many different levels.

“Maybe it isn’t hope at all” said Marois, “but merely a trick of the light.”

The major themes of are all now in place; the risks entailed by creating art, the judgement and responsibilities of the critic, what it takes to change emotionally, what it is to offer and accept forgiveness from others and finally what role can hope play in a world without easy faith. All this before the murder happens.

But we readers don’t have to wait long. After the vernissage Clara and her guests, both friends and members of the art world (not the same groups) repaired to Three Pines, the village on no map, to continue celebrating—the party goes well into the night. This is Quebec after all.

The next morning Clara is up early awaiting the return of Olivier and Peter who have driven off to pick up newspapers so she can read the critics’ verdicts. Olivier and Peter arrive with papers in hand; all the major papers have reviewed the show: The New York Times, The Times of London, The Globe & Mail and others. Clara wants to hold print editions “because I wanted to feel the newspaper in my hands. I wanted to read my reviews the same way I read reviews of all the artists I love. Holding the paper. Smelling it. Turning the pages.”

But the papers will remain untouched by Clara for most of the day. It is at this moment, Olivier and Peter and discover a body in Clara’s garden; “the red shoes just poking out from behind the flower bed.” The victim, dressed in an equally bright red dress had died quickly; someone had snapped her neck, around midnight.

Gamache, Beauvoir and Agent Lacoste who takes a bigger role in this investigation (much to the initial discomfort of Beauvoir) are back on the case.

No one had recognized the victim from the vernissage or from the after party at Three Pines. But she is soon identified as Lillian Dyson which comes as a terrible shock to Clara.

The victim had been best friends with Clara up until art school, but Lillian had turned on Clara. Lillian had savaged her in a student review, and their friendship ended. Clara never discovered that Peter played a role in all of this.

Later, as an art critic for La Presse, Lillian Dyson had gone after other artists too. She had penned a memorable blurb; “He’s a natural, producing art like it’s a bodily function” that lived on even though no one could now remember the artist at whom the barb had been aimed. Then Lillian left Montreal for New York.

Why would someone murder a now obscure art critic in Clara’s garden the night of her triumph? Who was so damaged by this now-dead acerbic critic that they would kill? The homicide team begins to interview and re-interview the gallery owners, patrons, artists and friends who attended the vernissage and the party at Three Pines, looking for motives and intent and lies and inconsistencies.

A major piece of evidence is discovered while Clara and her friends perform a smudge ceremony in Clara’s garden—they discover something the police had missed. A beginners chip from Alcoholics Anonymous, with the famous serenity poem imprinted on the back is found. Was it dropped by the murder or by the victim?

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Armand and Beauvoir must notify Lillian Dyson’s parents in Montreal and they go there to also explore more of the victim’s life. Meanwhile, Peter and Clara confront the awful truth that their marriage is also possibly dead, killed by the fact that Peter cannot accept the fact that his wife, and not he, will be the art star.

On the drive to Montreal, Gamache tries to speak with Beauvoir about his stalled recovery from the shooting in the factory and then about the end of his marriage to Enid. Beauvoir is about to tell Armand his true feelings for Annie, the woman he actually loves, but he can’t. “He opened his mouth , the words just hovering there, just opening. As though a stone had rolled back and these miraculous words were about to emerge into the daylight.” It is the same image, the stone and the tomb – referred to when describing Clara’s painting of the aged Virgin Mary and the cross above Mt. Royal.

Gamache and Beauvoir arrive at the apartment of the Lillian’s aged parents, pensioners who clearly adore their only daughter. For me this is one of the most deeply moving scenes. The description of the parents’ grief is so direct yet so contained. As she goes through the social niceties of pouring tea for her guests, Madame Dyson refers to her husband as Papa, “Would she still call him ‘Papa’ after today, Beauvoir wondered. Or was that the very last time? Would it be too painful?” That must of have been what Lillian called them”. And when they are finally told the news of the murder of their daughter; “Madame and Monsieur Dyson crossed over to continent where grieving parents lived. It looked the same as the rest of the world but it wasn’t.”

Before the Dysons descend into complete shock, Gamache and Beauvoir try to glean as much information as they can. The Dysons remember the youthful conflict between Clara and Lillian but from the other side- it was Clara who stole the ideas and confidence of Lillian and it was Clara who caused the estrangement. Their Lillian was a loving daughter who did not drink—she had returned to Montreal eight months prior and was working on making a clean start, on making amends.

Had Lillian been tricked into going to Three Pines only to meet her death? Gamache wonders. The next stop will be Lillian’s apartment. Up until now the investigation as focused on the art world, now Gamache and the squad must expand their search into another world; the half secret world of drinking and addiction . We will enter this world in part 2.

Favourite Quote

“The skyline of Montreal was looming in the foreground now across the river. And Mount Royal rose in the middle of the city. The huge cross on top of the mountain was invisible now, but every night it sprang to life, lit as beacon to a population that no longer believed in the church, but believed in family and friends, culture and humanity.

The cross didn’t seem to care. It glowed just as bright.”

I love this passage for several reasons.

1. I spent a January night in a hotel near the Biblioteque Nationale during a snowstorm with the old city to my left and the glowing cross on the Mount to my right. It is ethereal. It really does glow. Especially during a blizzard.

2. The ongoing Reread discussion for Bury Your Dead has talked a lot about Canadian and Quebecois history. What Louise says in four lines captures for me the essence of the Quiet Revolution—an event that completely transformed Quebec.

3. The cross didn’t seem to care. It glowed just as bright.” Is religion obsolete or merely obedient to a different conception of time and space than the secular world? This is subtle writing.

Discussion Questions

1. How do you visualize Clara’s portrait of the Virgin Mary? Which artist’s styles come to mind for you? And why?

2. The picture of Clara and Peter’s marriage is so honest. We do compete with our spouses and think we are being supportive when we are not. Clara confronts Peter: “you don’t even like my work.” What would you say in this situation? Is this a double- bind? Peter does have different artistic tastes than Clara, but can he dislike her art and still love his wife?

3. On the drive to Montreal Beauvoir asks “what would you have done sir? If you were married to someone else when you met Madame Gamache?” Do we all have a true love and what boundaries, if any, we should place around our search for that person?

4. In a novel that is about many things including the power of media, why do you think there is no mention of any fictional TV, radio or print coverage of the murder of Lillian Dyson? Louise Penny was a prominent journalist before she became a novelist. Why this omission of media coverage in the story?

5. The critic may wield great power in the art world, but do critics influence your reading decisions? Did you discover Louise Penny from a review or from somewhere else?

6. Louise takes great care to call out specific newspapers and magazines thoughout the novel. Do you notice what characters are reading and what does it tell us about them?

7. Louise describes grieving parents crossing over to another continent from which they won’t return. Does this deny the possibility of hope?

Jamie BroadhurstJamie Broadhurst is VP of Marketing at Raincoast, an award winning, Canadian-owned book wholesale and distribution company based in Vancouver, BC. When not working at Raincoast, or teaching at Simon Fraser University, he's reading and playing with his son.

Discussion on “A Trick of the Light, Part 1

  1. Julie says:

    Hi, Jamie – welcome to the group – we’ve been having fun! Now, before I launch into anything about this novel, I just have to go back and revisit The Brutal Telling! This quote from your write-up: Clara falls to the ground and it is Olivier Brulé, not her husband Peter, who gets down on the floor beside her “whether it’s on your knees or on your feet, you’re going through that door. It might as well be on your feet.”

    This is the Olivier I knew before The Brutal Telling! This is why I loved him, and why I was so disappointed in him. I’d not seen outright greed in his nature – just a cute and clever way to market his antiques, by putting them in the Bistro and putting price tags on everything. Cute – not venal. And he was always the first to help a neighbor.

    The more I think about these things, I have to wonder – if I were in a room filled with the most beautiful treasures – the kinds of things I, personally, treasure, and that I know are worth a LOT of money. No other living soul is in the room, or knows about the room. Do I take things? I hope not, but sometimes I wonder…. Of course, I DO know that I wouldn’t move the body….

    Sorry – I know we’re meant to be discussing A Trick of the Light, but we’ve been living with Olivier’s downfall for two books now, and I just had to say that when confronted with an act of kindness on his part.

    • K.E. says:

      Julie I thought it was perfect that Olivier was the to support Clara here. Olivier did a bad thing but I did not think of what he went through in A Brutal Telling and Bury Your Dead as his downfall but a rather hard lesson. I did not love him less and I do not think friends do either. Clara is going through a very hard time here and recognizes this having just experienced a different sort of hard time himself. This first moment and their conversations later reveal a lot about them both.

      • Julie says:

        K.E. – I think you’re right that this is not really Olivier’s downfall, and that I still love him. It’s just that I was shocked to see that side of him. Not the greedy side – I really don’t mind that all that much – we all have faults – greed, sloth, you know the whole seven! The thing that shocked me was moving the body. That took things to a whole other level for me. It’s something he does need forgiveness for, and I hope he has learned. I’m sure prison was so horrible for him – I’m sure it would be for any sensitive person – that he may now proceed to live his life in full awareness of the many blessings he has. Most especially Gabri, and his wonderful friends in Three Pines. The fact that he can’t quite forgive Gamache yet seems petty on the surface, but of course, there are deeper things at work here. Someone here in the forum (Jane?) points out that he needs to forgive himself first, and I think that’s correct – he not only must forgive himself, but needs to really confront what was so wrong in what he did, and what his role was in his conviction. He’ll get there.

    • Meg R says:


      I didn’t make it back to “Bury” in time to post, so – I’m doing a ‘flash back’ on that one too. For some reason or other, when I started reading “Bury Your Dead”, initially I recalled reading the first Dan Brown book given to me as a gift. Had the sense when I read that that I was reading a screenplay for tv or film, instead of a novel – because of short (& in his case choppy) chapters. Became annoyed with our author with the insertions of flashbacks initially too. I don’t have a problem with them usually in fiction, but – at first they became really intrusive and annoying to me. Seemed like we were mid-sentence in one situation/scene – and then – Blink! – with no warning! In another. Aggravating initially – YES! But then, I realized just what a clever technique Louise utilized here!

      By bits and blurps, we were given blow-by-blow accounts of events of that disasterous day in the factory. As rapidly as a flashback engulfed Gamache or Jean-Guy or Isabel, we experienced as readers their instantaneous leap from time and place. These ‘leaps’ were no less jarring as story continued, but they also incredibly built suspense and increased speed as the book moved toward the end. Okay. Enough of my blathering. Although I was annoyed at first, do have to admit that Penny used this technique very well!!!!!

      • Ruth says:

        I agree with you about the use of that technique. At first I didn’t like it because I really wanted to focus my thoughts on Gamache at the moment and not something that had happened in the past. But then I got caught up in the flashbacks and wanted to know what had happened that had been so horrible. Of course when I found out I was not so sure that I really wanted to know. It took until the end of the book before I came to terms with the story.

    • KB says:

      It was the perfect introduction to have Olivier help Clara to calm herself down, focus, and see the positive while Peter was totally oblivious and self-involved. The middle of the end.

  2. Julie says:

    HOW DO YOU VISUALIZE CLARA’S PORTRAIT OF THE VIRGIN MARY. We had a discussion of different paintings we’d seen earlier, and I didn’t make this connection myself. I have a vision in my mind, and so far, I haven’t been able to verbalize it, but in recalling it while reading the synopsis, I realized that it’s so very similar to a very famous cover portrait of National
    Geographic. The portrait of a young Afghan girl whose startling eyes stare out at the reader… to me, those eyes are full of rage, but somewhere in there, there’s hope. But perhaps it’s a trick of the light. :D


    • Lizzy says:

      Julie, that is a very good representation! Just add age to the face and a gnarled hand. Those eyes are amazing, and haunting, but I think I see curiosity and hope.

    • Meg R says:

      Julie, I too recall that photo portrait very well. In fact, I think a follow-up was done and the “girl” was relocated – an adult now with a child or children of her own. I didn’t see anger in her face then, or now when I re-examined the shot. I see more of wariness, uncertainty, maybe a little fear of what-else-is-yet-to-come. Hope? No. This child has seen and experienced too much in her young life to be hopeful yet. “Trick of light”??? No, I think we’re seeing reflected in this young beauty’s eyes what she has seen and experienced in her life to that point. My heart ached for her when I first saw this photo, and I still wonder if she’s been able to find any joy, ‘hope’, peace as an adult in that country that has been overrun by so many ‘conquerers’.

      • Meg R says:

        I have a very difficult time buying into actual visual representations of fictional characters – either photographically or in film or video. Rarely – if ever- do someone else’s choices come close to how I’ve pictured a character from the author’s descriptions and my own imaginings. Very often those other choices are jarring or in conflict with what I’ve imagined. For instance, saw Yul Brynner in “The King and I” – both in film and live in revival on Broadway stage. No one else will or can be the King of Siam for me! Went to CBC site to look for “Still Life” movie and saw short clips of cast and our author. The only casting choice that came close to what I physically imagine one of Penny’s characters to look like was the lady in the Ruth role. The rest of them looked like a cast from another screenplay. These are personal preferences – and really of little relevance to the wonders of what Ms. Penny has actually written!

        • FionaTheBrit says:

          I agree with you Meg. I watched part of “Still Life” with Nathanial Parker. None of the characters rang true because none of them matched my perception of them. They were all too “Hollywood.” The people in Three Pines are human, imperfect, both in character and appearance. Those who are supposedly the best looking, Peter and Olivier, have some nasty character traits. However I can forgive these, as I like the people. Olivier really has changed, he sees what he did and recognises the damage he caused. I forgive him. I am only surprised that Clara takes so long to have doubts about Peter.

      • Julie says:

        Yes, seeing the woman so many years later, in a similar pose was haunting, wasn’t it? I recall reading the accompanying story, in which she says she only remembers being angry at the photographer. I know in many cultures, taking a photograph is like stealing from the person, even if it’s not quite the “stealing of one’s soul” by taking a likeness. I wonder if there was something like this at the root of her expression. But I think if I were in her situation, I’d be wondering at why this affluent person was taking pictures instead of helping.

    • Sylvia O says:

      Julie – Subject-wise, that’s exactly the image that came to mind for me! I hadn’t thought about style, however. My first thought was Van Gogh, but I’m thinking Clara’s style for this painting would be a bit more lush, sharing a bit more with the old masters…

      • Julie says:

        Sylvia – yes, I must admit that Clara’s painting style is one I have thought might very well be like Van Gogh’s – rapid strokes, bold, seemingly naive forms that claim simplicity while actually being very complex!

  3. Having recently traveled to the land of grief, I can understand the parent’s reaction, their hatred of Claire. They see their daughter in a different light, not in truth, but in life. I think Gamache, Beauvoir live in the land of grief. Gamache in Bury Your Dead is really describing his journey back. Life is changing for all the characters and it is not easy, whether it is success, failure, old age or grief. Having the demarcation date set when you enter the land of grief is really only the first step, you will always live a different life from now on. I think that the grief that Gamache has felt over Oliver, the dead Surete officers and the loss of old friends to temptation has been his journey into the shadowland.

  4. Margaret Howland says:

    This may be my favorite of Louise’s books to date. There are so many layers to this particular story, it’s hard to know where to start.

    So first, art. I want to see Clara’s painting of Ruth! I have an image in my mind, and that’s probably a good place for it to stay– we should each have our own image. I am only a casual, occasional, art gallery or museum goer, not familiar with too many artists’ work, but I don’t feel it is in the least “Renaissance” style, not direct, not fully representational. That’s not Clara’s style. (Remember those uterus paintings?) It doesn’t remind me of any artist’s work — in my mind it is unique. If I looked at the painting would I be able to see the Virgin, or would I see just an angry old woman? That’s a question I’ve been pondering since reading this novel. I’ll be thinking about it the next time I am in an art museum.

    Can Peter and Clara’s marriage survive his dislike of Clara’s work, his jealousy and his fear of Clara’s success? Peter’s work is intensely representational, beautiful, but exacting in its depiction of what he is painting. Clara’s is — not. Emphatically not. This might, in confident people, be a good match… each expert in their own field. But Peter has no confidence. Can Peter find a way to outgrow his deep sense of inferiority, his ever-present need for praise, care, loving, instilled in him by his horrific family? I doubt it.

    • Judy S. says:

      “If I looked at the painting would I be able to see the Virgin, or would I see just an angry old woman? ”

      Margaret, that’s a really good question. When I read the description of this painting, I wondered if I would see that dot of light and interpret it as hope. But now I wonder, as you do, if I would interpret the angry old woman as the Virgin Mary? I wonder if people who aren’t Christian, or familiar with the Christian paintings we are so used to seeing in art history classes, would see it that way?

      • KB says:

        I don’t believe that I would interpret the painting as the Virgin Mary. I never thought of her losing faith or becoming bitter, so I doubt that I would have seen anything other than a bitter, angry old woman and, maybe, the beginnings of hope.

    • Margaret says:

      Several people have mentioned the girl on the cover of National Geographic, but I don’t see Clara’s painting that way at all. The Van Gogh references come closer in my mind — his self portraits… suggested rather than delineated features.
      Isn’t it a great thing that there are so many different kinds of writers, and artists? And people???

  5. Cathryne Spencer says:

    Julie, what a powerful picture. Now that I see it, I remember that cover. I’m glad that you found it, it really is hard to look away from those eyes. It also makes me want to see the next moment and the next. Add 70 years and what will we see?

  6. After reading the following passage ” Her works, mostly portraits, hung all around the white walls of the main gallery . . . . Some were clustered close together, like a gathering. Some hung alone, isolated. Like this one.” I decided exactly how to hang my own exhibition of 73 drawings in the fall of 2013. My complex series of portraits made over many years sorted itself as I held this description in my mind. In fact I called this show held in Olympia Washington “Like This”. Thank you Louise.

  7. Lizzy says:

    7. Louise describes grieving parents crossing over to another continent from which they won’t return. Does this deny the possibility of hope?

    No, it doesn’t. But they do live in a different state so to speak. Unless it has happened to me, I cannot enter that state. There is always hope though and through time they can find some joy again.

    • Julie says:

      To me, it does mean that there will be no hope. The loss of a loved one, especially of a child, is devastating. Somehow, loss to murder is worse – you might think that dead is dead, but murder is definitely the abomination that steals your trust in mankind. My brother’s brother-in-law was murdered (many years ago, now, and we were not close, so it’s not that it was a devastating loss to me, personally) and I saw how changed his siblings and wife were after that. This is definitely a land from which there is no return, and in this land, strangers cannot be trusted. Hope is lost and I don’t see how it can come back.

      I certainly understand why they are so resentful of Clara and what they believe she did to their daughter. Their daughter was everything to them.

    • Sylvia H. says:

      Yes, like Tom Hancock said to Gamache that joy is always with us and in time Armand will find it again.

    • KB says:

      It does not deny the possibility of hope. They have entered a different land and nothing will ever be the same, but there is still joy and hope because they don’t belong with the old continent. Joy and hope are part of the people who feel them. I have seen an aunt and cousin live through a murder (father/grandfather), death of son-in-law/husband to cancer at age 23, death of son/brother at age 25 to an overdose, death of husband/father to cancer, and 2nd son-in-law/husband making it through a heart transplant. They are both hopeful people who experience a lot of joy. Their lives are different. They have hard days. But they don’t give up, they look for signs of their lost loved ones and they celebrate what they have today. Courage, hope, love and joy are choices. They are still present and real once we come through the other side of grief.

  8. Cathryne Spencer says:

    #1. Clara’s portrait of the Virgin Mary has always made me think of Van Gogh’s portraits, especially some of his self-portraits. They are so intriguing, it’s hard to stop looking at the eyes and the eyes vary from picture to picture. In some, his eyes are close together, in others, farther apart. Sometimes bigger, sometimes smaller. His unusual stroke work adds such emotion and conflicting reactions in the viewer. Also, his aggressive use of blue makes me think of Clara’s Virgin Mary. I wonder if my knowledge of Van Gogh’s life is influencing my reactions to the controlled, intense feeling I perceive in his self-portraits. Maybe, but I think it is mostly his ability as an artist to evoke emotion from his audience, like Clara. Is there hope in his eyes? I don’t know. I’ll have to look some more.

    • Karen I Ford says:

      I too thought of van Gogh’s paintings when I imagined Clara’s painting –yet with Monet’s palette. No photo really can describe Ruth.

    • Judy S. says:

      Interesting! I can see why you both thought of Van Gogh – there is that intensity, the presence of the spirit of the person in his portraits.

  9. Lizzy says:

    5. The critic may wield great power in the art world, but do critics influence your reading decisions? Did you discover Louise Penny from a review or from somewhere else?

    No, not really. I take what I want from reviews. Each person has a different worldview and personality. So what one may vilify, I might like. As to Louise, a like minded friend had read Still Life and highly recommended it to me. It did not disappoint and I’ve been hooked ever since!!

    • Julie says:

      I “found” Louise through a friend who recommended Still Life. I seldom find books through reviews, though once in a great while, I will read a review that really gives a good accounting of what the book is like, and I will buy it – I can think of three very good biographies I bought because of great reviews. As soon as I started Still Life, I could tell that this was an author with a very authentic, Canadian voice. I needed to read more, to know more.

    • Ruth says:

      I found Bury Your Dead on a newsletter from my public library. At the time it was on their new books list and I was looking for something to read. The description sounded intriguing and I borrowed it. It was my introduction to Louise Penny and I immediately went back and read all the previous titles while madly telling all my friends how wonderful the books were. I find reviews only somewhat helpful and never completely rely upon them.

    • Michele says:

      I learned about the Gamache series from a Facebook post by Ann Reed, Minnesota songwriter/singer. She wrote of the beauty of the writing; from a writer of Reed’s caliber, I could only pay attention and reserve “Still Life” at the library. I was hooked after the first page.

    • KB says:

      I found Still Life through my life friend when I was bemoaning the lack of good reading material out there. She listed a few other authors as well, but I didn’t feel the same connection with their work. I wouldn’t care if the critics said that Penny’s works were total crap at this point. The use of place as a character, the richness of the language, the quirky characters….I’m well and truly hooked at this point.

  10. Lizzy says:

    4. In a novel that is about many things including the power of media, why do you think there is no mention of any fictional TV, radio or print coverage of the murder of Lillian Dyson? Louise Penny was a prominent journalist before she became a novelist. Why this omission of media coverage in the story

    I’m not sure. I never thought about it. Maybe because it would be clutter in the story. Maybe it would be biased and not let us have an open mind?

    • Diane says:

      I don’t see any reason why the death of an unknown woman, recently returned to Canada, on welfare, who died where there is no real media presence would have been reported by any news outlet. Sorry but I didn’t understand the question. Anyone have some insight here?

      • Mary says:

        I had not thought about the lack of media presence either, but even though there are no media outlets in Three Pines, it seems at least possible, if not likely, that one of the party guests from Montreal would have alerted the media to the discovery of a body in Clara’s garden right after her vernissage. Or perhaps that’s so common in the U.S. that I would expect it to heppen in Canada as well?

      • Jamie Broadhurst says:

        good point. This is what I meant: the victim is obscure but the timing and context are sensational. and the murder rate in Canada is quite low- less than 600 murders a year for the entire country- less than many single cities elsewhere. A murder would likely attract media attention. But your opinion has me thinking about this again.

        • FionaTheBrit says:

          The media go after the easy story. Sensationalise it and mess around with the facts. Hopefully they got lost in the forests and mountains and decided to write about something easy.

      • KB says:

        I agree with Diane. I don’t think that there would be much coverage here. There isn’t the same type of interest as a young mother gunned down in a gang-related shooting gone wrong or a kidnapping or car-jacking. I would think that, at most, coverage would be “a murder in a small village”… and it would run for 1 day only.

    • Julie says:

      While there are no reporters in Three Pines, (and how would they find the place even?) I do think that in the natural order of things, there might be some reportage of how such a prestigious event as a vernissage at the highly acclaimed Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal was affected by the murder of someone on the artist’s property at the after party. I truly believe there would be media coverage. That we aren’t shown this is because we “live” in Three Pines – we see things first hand, as though we are one of the community, and therefore, we’re not influenced by the media. There would definitely be some “spin” – what a juicy story – an unknown-before-last-night artist is discovered and defamed in one stroke! The media would make hay, but that’s not what the story is about – it’s about the true, honest feelings and people involved.

    • Judy S. says:

      Interesting question – especially since we are made very aware of media presence in “Bury Your Dead” – the throng of reporters around the Lit and His, the press conference. As others have said, Three Pines is so small and hard to find that I’m not completely surprised there isn’t press there – but it does make me realize that it was a deliberate choice on Louise’s part. (Personally, I’m relieved – I would hate to have Three Pines “discovered” by a sensationalistic media!)

  11. Lizzy says:

    2. The picture of Clara and Peter’s marriage is so honest. We do compete with our spouses and think we are being supportive when we are not. Clara confronts Peter: “you don’t even like my work.” What would you say in this situation? Is this a double- bind? Peter does have different artistic tastes than Clara, but can he dislike her art and still love his wife?

    If one has a strong marriage and self confidence it would be ok. He could still be supportive without liking her work. There is a famous political couple. One is a fierce liberal, the other is a fierce conservative. Yet they love each other and have a great marriage. Their names escape me right now.

    • Barbara H. Johnson says:

      You might be thinking of Mary Matalin and James Carville. The couple that first came to mind was Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger but they are no longer married.

    • Julie says:

      I agree with several of the others who’ve mentioned that Peter DOES like Clara’s art – he’s stunned by her talent. It’s the jealousy that he is having so much trouble with, and as the story goes on, we’ll see that he has been for a very long time. He’s been sniping away at her to make sure she never felt confident in her talents since they started dating in college.

      I do think he loves her – as best he can. I think he’s so damaged that he may never be able to contribute equally to the marriage. But he needs her on a basic level, and that neediness, more even than his jealousy, is what I find difficult to balance with a good marriage in my mind. On some level, people think it’s flattering to be “needed” by someone, and to a certain extent, it’s healthy and good. But when the neediness takes over everything else, it can kill any feelings of love that you have for your spouse. Peter’s in great danger of killing Clara’s love completely.

      I have hopes, however, that he will learn and grow… As someone who has been through a divorce, I know that this should be seen as the last resort – the one thing left you can do when you have tried everything else. It’s so demoralizing to go through, and not to be jumped to because you “just can’t get along”. I hope, very fervently, that Peter and Clara can see a good counselor and work on bringing back the love.

      • Nancy N. says:

        As a participant in a 55-year marriage, I wonder if we don’t all encounter the fatal flaws in one another during those many years. Encounter them, recognize them, and absorb them into the totality of the person with whom we share so much, including our own fatal flaws. Does the spark of hope in the ancient Virgin Mary extinguish the loss of her divine Son? Or is it the ultimate act of humility, not to forgive the unforgivable, but to accept it as part of the masterpiece that is all our lives, whether long or short? I think there is old tragedy in the lives of Beauvior and Ruth that we have yet to learn. What about the mothers of the murdered Cree boys? Will they ever know hope again?

        • Julie says:

          Nancy – I would love to know more about the Cree community that is at the heart of several of these stories – what started Gamache on the path he now travels toward solving the Arnot case completely. It’s so easy to get caught up in the people we know so well and love, but we would be wrong to forget those left behind after so many young people were murdered.

        • Bean says:

          Having spent decades working with crime survivors, including homicide “survivors” (an odd name, but what else works?), I can say… It depends. On the circumstances, on the support, but mostly on the individual. Some are set on justice, or full of anger, or broken and turning to unhealthy habits, or focused on forgiveness, or understanding, or reconciliation… a thousand ways to grieve. Sometimes processes clash. Some people identify it as the primary event of their lives, determining every decision they make, while others strive to make it one event in a lifetime of events. There’s no “right” way to proceed, but there are some reactions and choices that encourage hope – and some that extinguish it.

  12. Karen I Ford says:

    Because I love the palette of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionists, my vision of Ruth as the aging Virgin Mary is in softened colors. Like Ruth herself, Clara has captured the inner beauty of Ruth. As in the last book, Jean-Guy found that inner beauty, that Clara sees and Ruth so whats to hide behind her mask of gruffness.
    There are so many levels of exploration in this novel and it is hard to begin examining it.
    Peter’s true colors are finally shown in this novel. His ego is damaged by the success of Clara and he has been undermining Clara to fuel his need to prove himself by being non-supportive to Clara. Everything in his life has led him to this lifestyle and he does not have the tools, either artistically or ethically, to be in a normal relationship. He has to be the “winner” and if others are hurt in the process, so be it. this attitude had led to the destruction of his marriage. I think that he is truly shocked that Clara finally tells him that she has had enough.
    It is not surprising that Clara does not recognize her former friend. Addiction can change the looks of the addicted person due to lack of proper nutrition and caring for one’s self beyond the next drink or drug. That Peter had been a part of the ruination of a friendship is just another way he had to be the hero.
    We all perceive life from a unique perspective. That Lillian told her parents a completely different story regarding the falling out with Clara is not unusual, it is the story she told herself to cover up her sense of guilt.
    Olivier, here is the person we came to love in the first books, the sweet caring Olivier! He will forgive Gamache but he has to forgive himself first and that is the hard part. It is like finally admitting that you have a problem and then confronting it in a positive way.
    Finding love for Jean-Guy and Annie is interesting as they are both in the shadow of Armand and do not want to hurt him or Reine-Marie. Here are two lost souls in need of a safe harbor. Both have been hurt by love and are trying to move on and, in finding each other, we see redemption. I see Jean-Guy’s inability to talk to Gamache about his feelings for Annie is fear. He does not want to disappoint his boss, he is afraid that Gamache will not feel him good enough for his daughter, he is still dealing with the aftermath of his divorce.
    Jean-Guy was hurt in more than just a physical way. Like Gamache, the emotional scars are more deeply hidden and will take a long time to really heal. I see Jean Guy as wanting to understand what really was going on with the raid and Gamache not totally ready to explain all that happened to really cause this incident that took to much from them all.
    Because I found the first Penny book at a used book sale, tucked on the shelf, I really had never heard of her so had no expectations at all. As I stood reading the first couple of pages of “Still Life”, I knew that I wanted to read the entire book — it was a mystery, about a place near where I grew up and loved, about art and interesting characters. I sometimes read reviews, but I tend to form my own opinions as they generally do not reflect what I see in the book or concert or piece of art or movie.
    The historical information really enhances our understanding of place and time in these novels. Americans are not very knowledgeable of Canadian history and I find it sad to be so close and yet so xenophobic. I am probably more lucky than most because I grew up on the border and most of my parents friends were Canadian and I read history for my degree and it still interests me.
    If it is difficult to get reception for a cell phone in Three Pines and it is not listed on any map, it can be assumed that getting newspapers radio or TV reception would also be affected. The invasion of the outside world would change the character of Three Pines. It is a tiny village and the part that intrigues us in the lack of sophistication from modern news media. The papers are available and read in the bistro, but it is a “community” gathering with discussion and insight. How often does this happen? Not around the breakfast table as we scurry of to work nor on the bus or train or diving in commuter traffic on the way to work!
    The loss of a child, whether a young child or an adult, is traumatic and very difficult for the surviving parents. I have watched family and friends deal in many ways, both healthy and unhealthy. I have seen marriages either strengthen or dissolve after the death of their child; family members turn to drugs or alcohol to ease the pain; and they all look for the good in their deceased offspring. Lillian’s parents could only see the good in their only child and she had been away for a long time. We parents want to believe our children until there is evidence to the truth. Any death changes each of us and it is like crossing a divide that separates us from those who have not experienced this kind of loss.

  13. Barbara H. Johnson says:

    # 1 I have never been able to visualize the portrait in detail. I can see only a faint, fuzzy, out-of-focus picture. Usually, I have very sharp and definite pictures of anything described in a book. However, my ideas may differ from the majority. I think I may have trouble with this visualization because I can not bear the thought of the Mother of our Lord being bitter or alone and aged. I’ve tried to think of it as Ruth but that doesn’t help.
    # 5 I read the book reviews in USA Today and in the local paper as well as the monthly edition of Book Page(given to Library patrons). I never read a book only because of the review.
    I read a review of Still Life and because I like Canada, mysteries, and small towns I checked it out of the library. Two dear friends introduced me to many authors. I didn’t always embrace their suggestions, but always tried them. They are deceased but would have enjoyed this reread. Several times, I have reached for the phone to share a passage with one or the other of them. They both loved Ruth.

  14. Barbara H. Johnson says:

    # 2 ” can he dislike her art and still love his wife?” Loving his wife and liking her art are not related. If he loves her, he would try to be supportive of her and her career. Surely, he could see some artistic merit in her works. He will not allow himself to truly encourage her or offer her his support because of his jealousy and the competiveness instilled in him as a child.

    • Linda says:

      The jealousy and competitiveness were not necessarily instilled in Peter as a child. He chose them as coping mechanisms. He could also choose to give them up, but hasn’t.

    • Linda Maday says:

      I believe he likes her work. He thinks it’s glorious. It isn’t that he hates her works, it’s that he hates the fact they’re so much better than his. He’s jealous. He’s green with envy.

    • KB says:

      Peter can’t love Clara if he hates her paintings. At least, not according to how her paintings and how she have been described. Clara paints feelings: love, joy, hope and faith. She paints herself. Her beliefs. If Peter hates the paintings, he doesn’t appreciate and respect Clara. But Louise has written that Peter criticizes Clara’s paintings for technical reasons. He points out flaws, real or imagined. But he doesn’t hate the paintings. He is scared of them. Their emotions (and Clara’s) emphasize his emptiness. He is jealous of her talent. Of her ability to feel. Of her capacity for love, hope and faith. And he is ashamed of that jealousy … and afraid.

  15. Mary Garrett says:

    My sympathy for Olivier is limited a bit by his not seeming to accept is own part in his being falsely accused. He set up the situation for the tragedy, treated the Hermit badly, and misled the investigation, and then can’t forgive Gamache for acting on the trail of errors . . . That said, it’s good to see his kindnesses, his good self taking hold again.
    I have some sympathy for Peter dealing with the emptiness of his own upbringing, and hope he does learn to be worthy of Clara.
    The twining of strands in this mystery fascinated me . . . and the art references make me want to learn more.

    • Judy S. says:

      Mary, I agree. I am angered that Olivier is taking no responsibility for the role he played in his imprisonment. Gamache tried and tried to help him, but Olivier just kept lying, until Gamache had no choice but to arrest him. It breaks my heart to see Gamache taking so much responsibility for that, and I was glad to see his comment that perhaps he and Olivier have ended up in the same prison cell.

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