As we wrap up the discussion on the eve of publication of the tenth book, The Long Way Home, it’s obvious how much Louise Penny and her creations are admired. Robin Agnew, co-owner of Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore, and discussion leader here for The Cruelest Month, was recently quoted in the Ann Arbor Observer. “In my twenty-one years of selling books, I’ve never encountered the passion that people feel for Penny.”
In this forum, readers, librarians, editors, booksellers and publicists have discussed Louise Penny’s books. We’ve talked about Penny herself, how we met her, and how we’ve all grown to see her as a friend. We’ve discussed the settings, whether Three Pines, Montréal, Québec or a monastery. We’ve grown to love her characters; Armand Gamache, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Reine-Marie, Clara, Ruth, Myrna, Gabri, Olivier, even a duck. And perhaps we’ve all discovered it’s hard to separate Louise Penny, the author and friend, from Three Pines, a place of comfort, where Gamache and his friends return time and again. Do we share a passion for Louise Penny because of who she is, or because of who she is and the gift of the world she has given us?
In How the Light Gets In, Armand Gamache acknowledges that Three Pines is not Eden. “Three Pines, he knew, was not immune to dreadful loss. To sorrow and pain. What Three Pines had wasn’t immunity but a rare ability to heal. And that’s what they offered him.”
Before we can heal, we must suffer. Louise Penny’s first nine books are a finished circle in themselves. We’ve gone from an introduction to Three Pines and Gamache, meeting them both in Still Life. We’ve watched him struggle with past history in the Sûreté du Québec, watched the situation there grow worse, and, now, in How the Light Gets In, we see the culmination of the epic battle between forces, the battle between good and evil. And, of course, it culminates in Three Pines.
One of the underlying story cycles of this series is finished. Gamache and Three Pines will go on, both somewhat changed from their experiences. I see the series as a Venn diagram. There is overlap. Gamache, Three Pines, many of the characters. We still need to find out what happens to Peter and Clara. But the first nine books will always be “Before the events of How the Light Gets In,” while the next books will be, “After the events of How the Light Gets In.”
Thank you for reading with us, discussing Louise Penny’s amazing series. It’s been an honor and privilege to participate in these discussions.
Recap (Chapters 1-22)
The opening chapter introduces a woman who remains a mystery in the first half of the book. Audrey Villeneuve’s story will come to light in the second half. Here, we only see her as a terrified driver viewing the cracks in the Ville-Marie Tunnel. When Gamache questions later, he learns she was a possible suicide victim and a clerk in the roads division of the Ministry of Transport. Audrey Villeneuve’s storyline is kept for the second half of the book.
The second storyline is introduced in chapter two. Constance PIneault, a friend of Myrna’s, leaves the village of Three Pines, with promises to return for Christmas. She left with a statement about playing hockey as a child, seeing it as revealing a secret. Her failure to appear causes Myrna, owner of the bookstore, to contact Gamache.
In chapter three, we learn that Chief Inspector Armand Gamache’s homicide division is under the gun. Chief Inspector Francoeur has torn it apart. The old guard, beginning with Jean-Guy Beauvoir, once Gamache’s protégé, has been transferred out, leaving Isabelle Lacoste and a group of rabble who have been transferred in. The most successful homicide team in the nation has been gutted, and Jean-Guy is emotionally destroyed, addicted to pills. Instead of a crack team, Gamache has a squad whose members are surprised to learn that “he actually believed it. Believed the Sûreté du Québec was a great and effective police force. A breakwater between the citizens and those who would do them harm.” We see that only Lacoste remains loyal to Gamache, the only one within the division who still respects him.
The three storylines slowly come together as Gamache responds to Myrna’s request. He and Lacoste leave for Three Pines. Along the way, they observe a body, later learned to be Audrey Villeneuve’s, being retrieved from the waters of the St. Lawrence.
When Constance Pineault did not show up in Three Pines, Myrna was worried about the seventy-seven-year-old woman. It’s only then that she reveals Constance’s true identity. She was one of the famous Ouellet Quintuplets, once the most famous children in Canada, born to a simple farmer and his wife. When Gamache and Lacoste find Constance murdered in her home in Montréal, it leads to a fascinating story about the Quints. It also leads to a murder investigation, and Gamache agrees to handle it for his counterpart in the Montréal homicide division.
The timing for a murder investigation is perfect, as it provides an opportunity for Gamache to smuggle two friends into Three Pines. Thérèse Brunel, a Superintendent in the Sûreté, and her husband, Jérôme, a retired doctor turned cyber junkie, are helping Gamache dig for answers as to what’s truly going on in the police force. But Jérôme’s computer searches have caught unwanted attention, and it’s dangerous for everyone involved. Three Pines makes the perfect refuge. Or does it? They are safe, but also stuck.
A murder investigation involving a woman whose childhood was so celebrated that she doesn’t seem real. A build-up of tension as Gamache and his few allies dig for dangerous information. A seemingly unrelated death. A name from the past – Arnot. And, the first half of How the Light Gets In ends with Superintendent Francoeur and Inspector Tessier discussing the plot against Gamache, and their use of Jean-Guy Beauvoir. As they send him on raids, ply him with pills, play on his addiction, they see him as the unexploded bomb that could destroy Gamache.
I was so torn. Matthew 10:36 is a recurring quote and theme in the series. “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” It’s so important in this series, and this particular book.
But this time, I picked a more positive one. It’s Gamache, reflecting on the dog, Henri. “But he realized Henri already knew all he’d ever need. He knew he was loved. And he knew how to love.”
1. What did you know about the Dionne Quintuplets, the model for the Ouellets?
2. Henri, Ruth, and Rosa often serve to alleviate the tension in the book, adding a little humor. I like comments such as “Henri, while a handsome dog, would never get into Harvard.” Do you have a favorite humorous scene or moment in this first half of the book?
3. In describing Clara and housework, Penny says, “Clara Morrow was not someone who liked housework. What she liked was magic. Water into foam. Dirty dishes into clean. A blank canvas into a work of art. It wasn’t change she liked so much as metamorphosis.” How do you see this statement relate to Three Pines and the people who end up there?
4. What do you think Gamache meant when he said, “He wondered in a moment that startled him, whether that’s what this little village was. The end of the road? And like most ends, not an end at all.”
5. Over and over in the first half of the book, Penny emphasizes safety versus freedom, with Gamache and the Brunels in Three Pines, the Quints, the Crees. “They were safe, but also stuck, like the Quints. Made safe, given everything they wanted, except freedom.” How do you see safety versus freedom?
6. Let’s talk about celebrity. Myrna looks at the Quints and says she wouldn’t wish celebrity on anyone. How do people suffer because of their celebrity?
7. The shattered relationship between Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Annie Gamache is illustrated in the sad scene in which they sit in cars outside each other’s homes. In Jean-Guy’s case, “Now he was hungry. Starving. And he stank. The whole car reeked. He could feel his clammy undershirt sticking to him. Molding itself there, like a second skin.” At this point in the book, how do you feel about Jean-Guy Beauvoir?
8. Ruth’s poem, “Alas,” can refer to so many people, although we now know she wrote it about Virginia Ouellet. Who do you think of in the book when you read “Who hurt you once/so far beyond repair/that you would greet each overture/with curling lip?”