INTRODUCTION BY JAMIE BROADHURST
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.
Ch. 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.
Ch. 10-end: A diptych is art pieces designed to be displayed together where the meaning of one artwork is deepened by reference to its pair. The first half of A Trick of the Light opens with Clara Morrow’s triumphant vernissage and the electric reaction to her portrait of poet Ruth Zardo as the aged Virgin Mary. This is the painting that captivates Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and over which the international press raves. In the second half of the novel, we discover A Trick of the Light is really a diptych—it is a book about more than one triumphant piece of art and more than one newly discovered artist.
In part 1 we read about the murder of a now obscure former art critic for La Presse (a Montreal daily), Lillian Dyson, whose body is discovered the morning after Clara Morrow’s big celebration. Lillian’s body is found lying in Clara’s garden in Three Pines. The investigation soon turns upon motive and evidence—everyone in Quebec art circles remembers Lillian’s barb: “He’s a natural, producing art like it’s a bodily function” but no one can remember who the “he” refers to in the infamous take-down. An Alcoholics Anonymous beginners chip is found near the body. Was Lillian killed for authoring a savage review and will the murderer be found enmeshed somewhere in the world of AA?
While Agent Lacoste and her team comb the archives of La Presse to track down the elusive review, Gamache and his second in command, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir head to the shabby apartment of Lillian Dyson. What they find there is a stash of artwork that is a revelation to Gamache:
“Her paintings were lush and bold. Cityscapes, Montreal, made to look and feel like forest. The buildings were tall and wonky, like strong tress growing this way and that. Adjusting to nature, rather than the other way around.”
And the masterpiece in the making was not of the aged Virgin Mary but a decrepit church:
“It was unfinished. It showed a church, in bright red, almost as though it was on fire. But it wasn’t. It simply glowed. And beside it swirled roads like rivers and people like reeds. No other artist he knew was painting in this style. It was as if Lillian Dyson had invented a whole new art movement.”
Soon Gamache confirms what he already suspects, that the work of an undiscovered genius may be far more valuable to the astute collector or gallery owner. The art dealer, Denis Fortin, explains:
“‘Alive she would produce more art for the gallery to sell, and presumably for more and more money. But dead?
‘The fewer paintings the better. A bidding war would ignite and the prices…’
Fortin looked to the heavens.”
In Lillian’s apartment Gamache and Beauvoir find Lillian’s copy of Alcoholics Anonymous and her meeting list. Gamache and Beauvoir will head to the Sunday night meeting—held in the same church that was the subje ct of Lillian’s unknown masterpiece. Lillian had underlined a passage in her AA book: “The alcoholic is like a tornado, roaring his way through the lives of others. Hearts are broken. Sweet relationships are dead.” We are about to enter the tornado.
So it might seem incongruous that the scene is set up through humour. Gamache meets Bob at the door: “‘I am not actually an alcoholic,’ says Gamache.
Bob looked at him with amusement: ‘Of course you aren’t.’”
Although I haven’t noted it earlier, humour glimmers in all of Louise’s books. Employing a deadpan delivery (the same way she talks in person) she wields humour in her writing to underscore some of the most serious topics.
At the AA meeting, we meet a second set of characters who will propel the story to its final conclusion: Suzanne, Lillian’s sponsor at AA, who knows Lillian’s secrets but seems reluctant to tell; Chief Justice Thierry Pinneault, who chairs the meeting—he will struggle throughout the rest of the novel to be both loyal to his fellow AA members and to uphold the course of justice; and Brian, who has killed a young child while driving drunk. He confesses: “Do you know what finally brought me to my knees? I wish I could say it was guilt, a conscience, but it wasn’t. It was loneliness.”
All three AA members find their way to Three Pines. We learn that the 12-step recovery program includes a ninth step—asking for forgiveness—and that in the final months of her life Lillian confronted those she had hurt and attempted to make amends. “Make direct amends to such people, wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” But has Lillian been too rushed and too careless? Has she caused injury?
Agent Lacoste and her team return to Three Pines. They inform Gamache they’ve tracked down Lillian Dyson’s famous blurb and a few more bon mots. We are close to the solving the case now as well as seeing more of the character’s private lives unfold.
Gamache wades deeper into the murk surrounding the video of the disastrous factory shooting. How was it filmed and how did it leak to the public where it became an internet sensation? Beauvoir and Gamache confront one another: Gamache trying to make his colleague seek more help to recover and Beauvoir struggling to be completely honest to his patron, to forgive Gamache, and to reach out to Annie. Clara and Peter’s marriage takes a decisive turn, the ramifications of which will only become clear in future books.
The final section begins with an invitation for Gamache, Beauvoir and Agent Lacoste to attend a dinner party hosted by Clara. No one knows that this is where Gamache will confront the murderer. It will be very relaxed says Clara, “en famille.”
And then in a novel where English and French words have flowed interchangeably Louise as writer comments for the first time about the use of French word.
“Gamache smiled at the French phrase. It was one [his wife] Reine-Marie often used. It meant ‘come as you are”, but it meant more than that. She didn’t use it for every relaxed occasion and with every guest. It was reserved for special guests, who are considered family. It was a particular position, a compliment. An intimacy offered.”
The Eastern Townships is a part of Quebec where French and English language intermingle—someone might start a sentence in French and finish in English. Some people say they think in both languages. So when Louise calls attention to en famille and its full meaning the phrase takes on extra import.
I think it conveys to the reader that however this murder mystery ends, the bonds between the characters we have come to know so well over seven books will continue to change and deepen, but most importantly they will endure en famille in the books to follow. Gamache has been offered a permanent place in Three Pines.
“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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Suzanne’s description of why she let go of her hatred for Lillian:
“I’d held on to that hurt, coddled it fed it grew it. Until it had all but consumed me. But finally I wanted something even more than I wanted my pain.”
The epilogue provides a searing example of almost superhuman forgiveness, when Chief Justice Pinneault explains the true nature of his bond with the skinhead Brian, but when I read the words of Suzanne in the chapter prior, the psychology of her forgiveness seems more relatable and the mechanism more universal. It also sounded familiar.
I met a couple who had gone on a camping trip with their daughter. On a given day, both parents thought the other was taking care of the girl and she drowned. In the aftermath the couple stayed together but they both blamed each other bitterly until they accepted that anger and blame was completely futile. It took years. They couldn’t choose to forgive; they couldn’t will it—it had to come on its own terms. They told me this at the funeral of another child who had drowned and they hoped for the same outcome for the other grieving parents—that they could eventually surrender their mutual sorrow and feelings of guilt. Louise’s quote contains the same realism about sadness, hope and forgiveness. I suspect Louise Penny’s hope comes from hard-won personal experience.
I started my re-read with a personal anecdote about the first time I spoke with Louise and how she was so kind during our initial phone call. On that call I told her that her books have always appealed to me as love letters to Quebec and the Quebecois. I spent my summers in Quebec as a child and still have family there. I don’t get to travel to Quebec as often I would like, but I go there again and again when I reread Louise Penny. “This little village produced bodies and gourmet meals in equal measure,” says Beauvoir. And much more.
Does a Canadian read Louise Penny differently than someone else? Does a Swede read Henning Mankell differently than an international reader? Perhaps not, but you notice things and hear tone differently.
It is said that national literatures often reveals deeper themes, myths if you will. The myth of the United States is ‘The Last Frontier’ and rugged individualism, the myth of the United Kingdom is the island nation. The myth for Canada is survival in the wilderness. Canadians first came together in forts, then villages, and then cities because the wilderness beyond is so powerful and so deadly, and we are so vulnerable if we remain alone.
When Louise Penny writes of Three Pines as a refuge she is describing something very deep within the Quebecois and the Canadian imagination—not just a cozy village, but more a respite from what lies beyond it.
- Louise Penny says Three Pines is a state of mind as much as a place. Could Three Pines and its characters exist outside of Quebec?
- “Everyone lies. . . . Everyone hides things says Gamache.” What has he hid and how has he lied?
- A Supreme Court Justice of Canada has recently been quoted as saying she is reading Louise Penny. What do you think she will make of Chief Justice Pinneault?
- “I wish I could say it was guilt, a conscience, but it wasn’t. It was loneliness.” Brian says he quit drinking not because of conscience but because of loneliness. What is the connection between addiction and loneliness?
- “People only remember bad reviews” says the artist Normand. Do you think this is true?
- A fan wrote in to say she had named her son Armand after Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. “I feel that the Chief Inspector embodies all of the characteristics I would love to see in my son—intelligence, integrity, kindness, loyalty, compassion, and empathy, although he is not above admitting when he is wrong and is flawed in ways that make him all too human and very intriguing to follow through all of the novels.” Is there a character that you would name a child after?
- Poetry is used far more than mere ornament in A Trick of the Light. Characters reflect on the lines of Margaret Atwood, Stevie Smith and others throughout the book. What are your favorite lines and why?
- How do you visualize Clara’s portrait of the Virgin Mary? Which artist’s styles come to mind for you? And why?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- Louise describes grieving parents crossing over to another continent from which they won’t return. Does this deny the possibility of hope?
158 replies on “Series Re-Read: A Trick of the Light”
I loved the nuances in this book. My favorite quote had to do with Gabri’s B & B, being so cozy, kind of like grandmas house. Now I have to go back and find it. I liked the development of Jean Guy. I think Gamache knows something is wrong, but cannot see it in the beginning and Myrna’s advice sets him in the wrong direction. The scene between Clara and Peter was hear wrenching to read. he really is trying. These books have so much to offer. I will have o go back and re-read as time continues.
I have been thinking about the word “manipulate”. I want to consider manipulation as not always negative, but that may not be realistic. So, maybe I mean “influence”…
“The emotional impact that the art has on the viewer.” I have been enjoying the short videos of Louise Penny at the start of each book reread. I didn’t happen to watch this one until I had just searched for the descriptions of Clara’s paintings on my kindle app. To my surprise, I found no more than I already remembered. So when I watched the video, it was a real aha moment. I had been so surprised to find only what Louise pointed out in the video as broad brush strokes of description. That’s when I realized how she had been so effective in making me feel that she had described the art works rather minutely. It was her descriptions of “the emotional impact that the art ha(d) on the viewer.” The author is fully as effective as a fine painter in manipulating her audience in wonderful ways.
Our discussion on THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY is now live!
On rereading Jamie’s description of a diptych in art, I see how Clara and Lillian’s artworks could have been displayed together, each deepening the meaning of the other. Clara painted people, Lillian, city architecture. They each seemed to reach to the soul of their subject, with strong emotion and depth. Maybe Clara and Lillian were more alike than either realized.
I don’t know if we’re all in the summer doldrums or busy, busy, but I miss the discussion and I find myself hating the thought of leaving this wonderful book behind already.
I’ve been thinking so much about the vibrant, alive and original art of the murdered woman. It was such a surprise, it reminded me of the surprise and amazement of finding Jane Neal’s art in Still Life. Such different women, but each so talented. I like the way Jamie talked about the diptych of the two newly discovered artists in this book, the expected Clara and the unexpected Lillian. I thought Louise Penny did a brilliant job of building to a spectacular surprise in the second part of the book, when we finally encounter Lilian’s paintings. In getting to know the flawed woman before her art, we are set up for another smack of astonishment, a la Ruth as the beloved poet of Canada.
I also loved the theme of forgiveness and its importance in our lives.
I agree – this discussion seemed to die down early. I know that summer can be such a busy time for people, though. I loved the descriptions of Lillian’s art and would have loved to see what people would have made of it. I feel like Clara could have forgiven Lillian, if given the chance, and it would have been so nice to see that chance take place.
I was also struck by the idea that the Chief Justice could forgive, and even ask for help from, the person who killed his grandchild. I don’t think I’d have been able to do that.
Peter and Clara’s Marriage
I know we’ve had long discussions in past novels about the relationship between Peter and Clara and whether or not they can “last”. We’ve wondered why Clara has put up with Peter and his sabotaging efforts. We’ve perhaps seen Clara as the “long-suffering wife”, and Peter as a Peter Pan, needing Clara to be his Wendy. Now, finally, Clara has said “enough”. While I cheered at this, and at her very reasonable request that they part for one year to really have time to think and feel the ramifications of living apart, I was very disappointed in Peter’s withholding one last “secret”. I understand why he would be reluctant to tell her of his betrayal so long ago, yet such a complete betrayal! Still – if ever he was given the opportunity for a fresh start, and the sense that it might be his last chance, this was it! I think Clara must have seen (or sensed) that there was something Peter wasn’t telling her, and felt that, until he could be completely honest with her, there wasn’t much hope for them as a couple.
Julie, I also wonder if, at the end of that terrible night of fighting, Clara just couldn’t take any more confessions, and that’s why she said, “Haven’t we said enough?” I think she just wants to get Peter out for a while – a year – so she can sort herself out and, hopefully, enjoy her success as an artist without Peter’s destructiveness. She has certainly been hurt enough!
True – it’s a lot to handle. I can only imagine how much that last one is going to hurt when she finally learns of it. It might have been much too much right then.
I wonder if by then it won’t even matter to her.
Maybe – Peter may have built it up to something awful in his mind. It’s hard to know how people will take things. I think I’d be upset, but then again, I’d probably think it was so early in the relationship, it’s not like I expected him to love me already…
The explanation of “en famille” reminded me of dear and special times. Many of my friends were never invited to sit at the kitchen table for coffee or for a meal. The duration of the friendship was not the consideration. Some were seated in the kitchen on their first visit. Many memories==some heart-warming, some sad and some that still make me LOL. The special feelings among a group of friends such as those referred to by Jamie influence our lives in many ways. They are like family.
Congratulations to the Justice for letting people know she reads Louise Penny’s books. I am sure she knows lawyers and judges with addition problems like Pinneault and wishes they would seek help. Defense lawyers must wonder if they made the best choice in how they conducted the defense of a client when the client is found guilty and the lawyer truly believes he was innocent. Prosecution lawyers must feel the have failed the law an when a person ,they believed guilty, is found innocent. Judges must worry if their rulings were just and fair. They are bound by the law, but sometimes they must have personal feelings and convictions that differ.
I am now posting many small postings as I “lost” two very lengthy ones while working with my laptop— in my lap. We’ve had this one for a month, but I accidently rest my fingers on the wrong place and all sorts of unpleasant things happen.
Typos again. No “e” before Barbara and people have “addictions” not “additions”.
Although, they do sometimes have additions. ;->
Good catch, Linda. They certainly do. LOL
Yes, I do think everyone lies. Even those who would strongly deny it. Don’t all of us lie by omission? Sometimes the kindest thing is to lie or omit some facts. We sometimes need to filter what we say. I am thinking of things like ” what an unusual color” rather than “Why would you buy such an ugly color” when asked how I like the color of a friend’s dress.
The history of Quebec is part of the uniqueness Three Pines. Three Pines could not exist elsewhere. I do think a similar close knit village could exist in Georgia or South Carolina. There are probably many other areas, but I am writing from what I know about my area. There is a certain feeling, that I can not name, in some towns. I think this is due to mutual losses in the past and the necessity for one neighbor to rely on another. Their religious faith, marriages and generational friendships also unite them. Some of these places are changing as very large companies build and suddenly drop large numbers of people in their midst. People who really have nothing in common with them and believe themselves superior. They are reminders of the worst of expats as they seem to act as if they are in another county – one they don’t like.
Thanks again, Jamie!
I must admit, I feel out of my league with such insightful and intelligent people here!
The characters could exist outside of Three Pines, but something would be missing. I think Three Pines is part of their soul and make up.
Everyone else answered well about Gamache and his lies. I think in some way, he lies to himself by not facing some of the truths and facts. Maybe not lies, but at least ignores.
I think the Judge is quite human. They are not greater than an average person. Their position is greater. It think it’s great that the Canadian judge is reading the books!
I believe what others said about loneliness and addiction. The drug of choice becomes the prime relationship and all others are ignored or not able to be part of that person’s life. So the person becomes lonely and then it can become a viscous cycle. Because they are lonely they go to their addiction.
I think it’s part of human nature, at least for most people to dwell on the negative. I know I have in certain reviews either by teachers or employers. Where it was glowing in all areas, I’ll dwell on that one negativity.
I don’t think I would name a child after a character.
Last question: I was much too far out all my life
and not waving but drowning.
This makes me feel so sad! I feel like it was something that could have been prevented if someone had taken the time to know and help the ‘drowning’ person.
Lizzy, I can’t forget the wonderful line that goes with this poem so well – that “sometimes drowning men are saved.” There is a chance for redemption!
Yes, Sylvia! Redemption!
My son-in-law is a recovering alcoholic. He leads a group every Sunday and has for several years. His sobriety is a triumph over his demons. Several weeks ago his step-father died in a tragic accident. This was the man who had raised him from the time he was about 4 and they were very close. The saddest comment he made to me was just before the funeral. The family had been going through family pictures to share at the reception and it dawned on him that for about ten years there are no pictures of him and the rest of the family. Those were the years that he had been estranged from them. It suddenly hurt to realize that he was the his drinking was the cause of that loss.
It seems to me that for Gamache to survive, he needs to hid the truth from his staff. Would Jean-Guy really believe him otherwise? LaCoste?
There is another series of books with a “Canadian” voice — “The White Oaks of Jalna” which resonated with me just like Louise Penny’s has. I may be an American, but growing up on the border, have a different view of what a border really is. In grad school, I had a class on the American West After 1945 where we talked about the Southwestern border with Mexico. There is a real difference in the people who straddle a border. I grew up never thinking of Canada as a foreign country — it was just across the river. Our friends lived over there, many of my deepest memories are from the time we spent in Canada. Now I live on the West Coast near the border and I find that those feelings have been renewed.
Gamache hides his feelings and purposes but so do Clara and Peter, so does Jean-Guy.
We are beginning to see the awakening of Clara’s realistic view of Peter and she is not happy with the pictures she sees.
Jean-Guy is hiding his true feelings about Annie and it is causing problems that will have to come out at some point. But so is Annie hiding from the truth and lying to her parents.
The dinner party where so many lies come out from under the rug. It is the place where all seem to feel most comfortable.
Yes, there are places other than Quebec where this book could have been set. There are many little, isolated towns where there still is a sense of community and purpose. Maybe not in the same way as Three Pines, but still isolated.
I wonder if “hitting rock bottom” for addicts is the realization that all they have left is the alcohol or drug of choice and that it isn’t being a friend any more (if it ever was). At that point, the choice is to try to leave the addiction behind or not to care …. and probably die from the addiction.
K.B.’s “rock-bottom” remark made me think about Clara and Peter, and how there are all kinds of addictions. When they were each thinking of the other during the book, I didn’t sense that either of them actually knew the other, considering how long they’d been married. Clara is rather smug over Peter’s good looks, and Peter clings to Clara as his anchor. As K.B. said about hitting rock bottom, Clara comes to the realization that Peter isn’t her friend anymore, if he ever was.
Poetry – I love the poetry, and love that some of the same pieces are woven through several books. The most haunting is
“Who hurt you, once,
so far beyond repair
that you would meet each overture
with curling lip?”
To me, this is the essence of the books – pain guarded lovingly through the years until it has become not only the most important thing, but the only thing….
“Long dead and buried in another town
My mother hasn’t finished with me yet”
Why does this stick in my mind? And will it be a key in books to come?
I had a wonderful relationship with my own mother, so it’s not that.
I have a great relationship,with my children.
But I find this quote so haunting.
I love both of “Ruth’s” poems quoted by Dana and Julie. But in this book, the one that resonated with me was “Oh no, no, no….too far out ….not waving, but drowning”. How many times I’ve felt that way during crisis/change points in my life! Realizing that I wasn’t dead because I was still moaning and then lying down and breathing until it passed. Until the next time.
I would love to know more about Ruth’s story. I wonder who hurt her once that led her to becoming the embittered old woman she is. These people are so real, that we just know there’s a story of pain in Ruth’s life. It’s lovely how she seems to gravitate toward people who are hurting like herself.
Sylvia, Your response just triggered something for me that has been stated over and over again by a number of posters through this series of Penny books thus far. My comments below are for all of the Ruth – ‘taggers’.
I’m having some difficulty with Ruth repeatedly being characterized as a “bitter old woman.” Yup, she’s cantankerous, and a curmudgeon with an irreverent and sarcastic mouth on her, but I fail to see any evidence of bitterness and deliberate unkindness in her or her actions. Hurt? yes. Disappointment? yes Echoes of pain from some unexplained event? yes. Clara chose to paint Ruth as an elderly BVM – a very deliberate decision. Would you ever characterize the mother of Christ as a ‘bitter old woman”? Clara (and I suspect our author) saw/see much more in our poet and Mary than some of us give credit
Maybe having a good solid streak of that crankiness myself, I can see past that in Ruth. She’s obviously extremely respected and admired in her community (elected as head of fire dept.), has a good relationship of give and take with her neighbors, and we’ve seen evidence of her empathy and loving nature with almost all of them, Rosa, Jean-Guy, Ollie and Gabri, Clara, Gamache, etc. etc. etc.
Simply tagging her with “bitter old woman” unfairly sells this woman short.
I’ve thought that about Ruth several times, Meg. I don’t see her as bitter, either. Very wounded, yes, but under her wound is a soft spot.
Meg R. and Lizzy, I agree with you. I don’t see Ruth as bitter but as hurt. She feels for others but protects herself with that rough exterior. I am curious about her story and look forward to learning more. I wonder if she had a husband and child die in a tragedy and that perhaps she has “survivor’s remorse”.
I find this so funny, Meg. Over and over again, in the books, Ruth is described as bitter. So is the description of the portrait of Mary/Ruth. These are Louise Penny’s words. In each and every book, Ruth is described this way. I think we may be forgiven for using the terminology and going on to describe how we like her anyway. We recognize the hurt – and in fact, when a person is hurt over and over again by the world, the usual result is that they end up bitter. Bitter is not a dirty word – and Ruth is not merely crusty – she’s bitter. Something, some time long ago, hurt her very deeply. She sees this hurt and the potential for it in others and is very sensitive to it. I think it’s why she befriends Beauvoir, to try to help him not become so bitter. It can’t be fun to not be able to allow people close to you. She copes the best she can – she has a heart of gold. We see that. That doesn’t mean she isn’t bitter.
Sorry. I still beg to disagree. I’ve known some really ‘bitter’ folks in my decades of life. They’re so wrapped up in their own emotional baggage that they are unable or unwilling to acknowledge that anyone else can ‘suffer’ also. They enjoy inflicting their misery on others and rarely miss an opportunity to do so. Ruth can see beyond herself. Ruth can and does empathize with others (although not in that politely, false, treaclely manner of pseudo sympathizers). Ruth IS supportive of others – though usually privately – as we’ve seen her with Jean-Guy, Armand, Ollie etc.
The adjective “bitter” is something that leaves an unpleasant and foul taste in the mouth. Ruth never does that for this reader.
Character names. Hmmmm – I think that I’d not actually want to have the conversation with my child to say that I’d named him or her after a character in a book. Of course, you could just say that you loved the name and leave it at that… Armand, however, would remind me too much of Armand Hammer (Arm and Hammer). I am, however, completely in love with Gamache.
I think the most admirable character in the books is Reine-Marie and what a lovely name she has! Perhaps, though, that is because we don’t know her as well as any other. Again, though, I think I would be embarrassed to name a child after a royal personage.
I hate to admit it, but when we were looking for names for our first child, we were influenced by a character name. We wanted a Ukrainian name for a boy. Because of negative associations through teaching, a number of names were knee-jerk “nos”. Others were “nos” because they are a bit too guttural for the English tongue. Gladiator gave us “Maksym” (traditional Ukrainian) after “Maximus”. Luckily (or not), our daughter got “Ksenia” after my great grandmother. Out of the Three Pines characters, I would consider “Ruth” (but would claim to name her after my sister, of the same name, not the same temperament) or Isabel. Names that are too obviously French would sound a little affected with my Slavic surname.
Ha, my son and daughter-in-law just phoned last night to announce that their next child is going to be a son, and as there WERE no boys in her family, they hadn’t prepared for boys’ names. My only advice was to stay away from the names of Russian tsars.
In my employment, working around the public, I do notice that some names “get heard” more than others. (Note to young parents here: if the store staff knows your child’s name before you leave and you haven’t actually introduced him to anybody, you’re saying it too often.) What I’m trying to say is, if a parent picks a character name because of a character’s strengths, don’t be surprised if the other, less likeable parts of that character are imprinted, as well.
For myself, I think naming a child Armand after Gamache would be a lovely role model. Even his flaws are lovely ones.
I think Reine-Marie was probably named by her parents after Mary, Queen of Heaven. It’s a very Catholic name.
People only remember bad reviews. I’m not sure – as I’ve never done anything that gets that kind of review, I can’t imagine how it works on the ego of an artist. I can certainly see it being true in the universal sense that we all have that pretty soon, now, we’ll be exposed as frauds. That insecurity would be watching, waiting for the bad review and would pounce on it as proof that we’re worthless. So I can see that this would be something you’d remember. However, I can also see that same ego watching and waiting for the brilliant review and rejoicing when it arrived. I think I’d remember maybe the best and the worst. But I know that many people don’t read their own reviews because they think that if it’s good, they won’t believe it, and if it’s bad, they will.
It depends. I tend to dwell on “reviews” (decisions) where I didn’t come out on top, so I remember my own bad reviews more than the good ones. But, I (usually) remember good reviews for others. Paulette and Normand’s statement holds true for those who need to pull others down in order to build themselves up.
Connection between addiction and loneliness – I think that addiction brings loneliness, as it fills up every part of your emotions until it is your only companion. You drive away your family, your loved ones, your friends, until you stand alone with your pain and your drug of choice to assuage that pain. Unfortunately, this is the exact wrong way to relieve the pain, but at that point, you don’t care.
Julie, I also wonder if perhaps loneliness leads to addiction. Sometimes other events in life, such as abuse in childhood can make a person feel alone and lonely – you know, the sense that no one else would understand. In that case, drugs or alcohol may be used to dull the pain of loneliness.
Chief Justice Pinneault – I think that he is very human, and really, quite realistic in his being able to see how little in this world he can affect. He wields great power in one sphere – but none against the forces that took his grandchild away from him. He has had to admit that he is powerless against alcohol, to get as far as he has in his sobriety, and I’m sure this is very humbling. I like his character a lot, and I’m sure the Supreme Court Justice would recognize this. Otherwise, she wouldn’t let everyone know what she is reading…
Addiction rates are high (relatively speaking) among members of the legal profession – including judges. Even outside of issues like the death of a grandchild, the pressure to make billable hours and drive for partnership, the pressure to meet (often unrealistic) deadlines are great so that it is easy to lose sight of balance. Relationships are strained and break down and drugs and alcohol “fill the void”. Except they make void become everything. Judges know this.
Everyone lies and everyone hides things. Gamache actually hides more than most people as the stories progress. He has hidden his real thoughts on who released the tapes and why, and what he is doing about it. He hides his thoughts about the Arnot case, and especially anything he has done, or is doing about it. As he hides these things, he lies to his staff. He does this to protect them, but in doing so, he actually makes a few things worse. If he’d been completely honest with Beauvoir about the tapes, and his thoughts, things might go a little differently. As it is, he is left hoping that Beauvoir trusts him enough to let him get to these things in his own time, which, under normal circumstances, he would. But circumstances are not normal – nothing has been normal since the factory raid, and he really ought to be sensitive enough to realize that. I often wonder if he’d made Beauvoir his confidant in this book, would the next few books go differently? Of course, they can’t – Louise has a story to tell, and it must go this way.
One thing he’d specifically lied about in a past book is that he knew that Lemieux was working against him, while also allowing everyone to believe that it was Nichol who was the plant. This was really quite devious, and he didn’t tell a single soul on his team. He does these things, I think, for noble reasons, but I don’t think they are giving him the results he would wish. Interestingly, he withholds nothing from Reine-Marie. So he pays her the compliment of respecting her enough to know the truth, yet he doesn’t do this with his closest associates – Beauvoir and Lacoste.
These members of his team are his subordinates. The boss can’t always reveal everything to those who work under him or her. Reine-Marie is his wife, not a member of his work team, so he is free to tell her everything. He knows that anything he tells her will not go any further. In the case of suspecting Lemieux, if he was ever going to get him to show himself in his true colours, Gamache had to let on that he trusted him. He was fully aware that there was someone trying to bring him down. He assumed it was Francoeur. It is, actually, but he has influenced Michel Brebeuf to turn on his best friend and undertake a subversive line of action to hurt Gamache. But Armand knew that the second time Yvette Nichol came, she had been sent by Francoeur, so he was able to let on that he thought she was the spy, when he really knew it was Lemieux. However, it would not have been smart to have let Beauvoir and Lacoste in on all this. They didn’t know the details of the Arnot case, that is the background for the hatred against Gamache.
Yes, Sylvia – they are his subordinates, yet Gamache relies on both Beauvoir and Lacoste to work independently and well, and in the instance of the Arnot case, Lacoste knew most of the particulars, which she told to Beauvoir and what either of them didn’t know were details that Gamache withheld from them. I stand by my idea that if he had been more forthcoming with Beauvoir in the beginning, that things might have gone differently. In the case of Lemieux, there was never any need to hide things from either of his senior officers, as they were both very capable of understanding what was at stake, and of acting accordingly. I know he did it to protect them, but that was not actually the effect that was achieved.
As well, I think it is very unusual to not keep some aspects of his work from Reine-Marie, and as Judy mentioned, it may even be impermissible to tell her everything about his work. He goes one better with Reine-Marie, allowing her to delve into cases, evidence, etc. in his “Christmas cases” as we see at the beginning of A Fatal Grace. In fact, he allows her access to files that don’t belong to his department, but to the City of Montreal’s Police Department. I don’t say this because I think he shouldn’t. I think it’s wonderful to have that openness, and I think it shows that he is willing to defy the “way things are done” because he finds it inconceivable that he would keep anything from Reine-Marie. I love that about him.
Julie, it’s an interesting point that Gamache hides nothing from Reine-Marie. We are told in an earlier book that this is unusual – perhaps not even permissible – but that Gamache feels that he cannot live his life keeping secrets from the woman he holds in his heart. An interesting contrast to the lines he draws in his work. As others have said, however, his job is not to be totally open and honest with the people who work for him.
Gamache and Reine-Marie also keep some of their feelings from Annie – especially their worry about her. Annie tries to talk to her father at the beginning of the book, and it is not until the end that we learn that she is having major problems in her marriage – and that she had turned to Jean-Guy for advice. Gamache sees parallels between Annie and the Cowardly Lion – bluster to keep fearful things away – but I got the feeling, from the way this was described, that he hasn’t even shared that with Reine-Marie.
At work and at home, I think that Gamache tries to protect people he is responsible for – which is not always the most productive way to live, but it comes from his heart.
I see I’ve already touched upon question one. Could these characters exist outside Three Pines and outside Quebec? Yes – I think people are people, everywhere. It’s not the fundamental things that are different in different places. You’ll find curmudgeonly geniuses, loyal wives with more talent than their husbands, greedy innkeepers and loving companions everywhere. You’ll also find smart, compassionate detectives everywhere. That they are placed in Quebec and especially, in Utopia (oops – Three Pines), adds a dimension to the story – gives it depth and meaning that wouldn’t be there otherwise, but those characters could just as easily live in Greece and while the outward trappings would be different, I believe the inner struggle and turmoil would be the same.