In the bedroom Clara picked up the well-worn book beside Jane’s bed, C.S. Lewis’s, Surprised by Joy. It smelled of Floris. (Still Life, page 242, Trade Paper Edition)

Surprised By Joy BookOriginally published in 1955, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life is C.S. Lewis’s look back on his conversion to Christianity and the idea of what actual “joy” means to him.

The title of Lewis’s memoir comes from William Wordsworth’s 1815 sonnet, “Surprised By Joy — Impatient As The Wind”, which was written in the wake of his three-year old daughter’s death and begins as follows:

Surprised by joy—impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport—Oh! with whom
But Thee, long buried in the silent Tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?

At face value, a strange comparison—joy and death—but the world of Three Pines, as summed up by both readers and reviewers alike, is just that, a place where light contrasts dark, goodness exists with evil, innocence engages experience, and hope flourishes with fear.

Here, Louise describes the significance of Lewis’s tome:

“I came across it early in my sobriety. And that was a magical time, because I thought I was going to die by my own hand. I was thirty-five and I couldn’t see going through another year of life, never mind another forty years. So when I asked for help and got it through a twelve step program, it seemed — and perhaps it was — a miracle. At that time, I was surprised by joy, because I had been so dark and so negative and so afraid. Then, to find happiness and the freedom that comes from not having to drink every day and finding friends, and finding myself, and finding real joy. That’s when I came across the phrase and the book Surprised by Joy.”

And this is from Louise’s January 2009 Blog Post: “At 2 years sober we’re given a medallion by our sponsors and asked what phrase we’d like engraved on it. I thought about that and chose – Surprised by Joy. A phrase I used deliberately, with gratitude, in Still Life. I keep that medallion with me always. To remember.”

Louise also had a bench made and adorned with a “Surprised by Joy” plaque for her husband, Michael’s birthday in 2007 (that’s him reflected with Trudy the dog below!). As she says, “When I met and fell in love with him I was, indeed, surprised by joy. And he was the most joyous person I’d ever met.”

Happy Birthday Michael

Sadly, Michael passed away last year and here is a rendition of the plaque that will soon be placed on a bench in New York’s Central Park. The bench sits on an idyllic hill and faces Louise’s apartment.

Surprised By Joy

The quote below from Lewis’s work succinctly sums a theme that continuously runs through the work of Louise Penny.

“I pay respect to wisdom not to strength.”

You can almost see Gamache saying those exact same words.

Discussion Question

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


It is not a particularly joyous time in America right now so we must take our joy anyplace we find it. God bless a Canadian for helping us out. I am going downstairs and bringing Still life to put by the sofa in front of the fire. (Spring has still not come to upstate NY). Perhaps Ruth will join me?

Thank you to Louise & to you all……..your shared experiences will help us all in difficult times.
I am surprised by joy every time I turn the corner from my holiday flat & see the sea in Weymouth, Dorset.
Louise, your wisdom & compassion shines through your writing, I feel I have a friend, & I’m so looking forward to revisiting 3 Pines in your company.

“Surprised by joy.” The very sound, and feeling of it rolling around in my head seems to make me feel good. I wasn’t sure why, or what is was that created that feeling. But now, after reading a bit more of everyone’s comments, and what Louise Penny has to say, I am beginning to understand. I am a painter, and sitting her just now, I realized that when I paint, I am constantly “surprised by joy”. A piece goes from rubbish, to something I’m proud of. At least that is what I am constantly wishing for. The phrase is one of those things you want to carry with you, and feel like you almost understand, and that almost understanding is enough.

I am anxiously waiting for the next book Glass Houses. I always “read” each book to savor every word. Then I “listen” to the book on CD and I enjoy the telling in a different voice. My one regret is not keeping a journal of the phrases that have been my favorites. Guess I’ll have to start the series again and do just that. Thank you Louise.

Doing my best not to be impatient about the next in the Gamache series. Louise Penny is my favorite writer!

As a “senior” I enrolled in a writing class titled “Writing Your Life Stories”. I plan to use these cultural inspirations from the Ganache stories as gentle needles to probe my memories and enrich my life stories. I am an avid and addicted reader, and must say that I’ve never enjoyed any series as much as these wonderful stories. I find myself constantly wanting to see, hear, smell, taste and feel more. I want to see Clare’s painting of Ruth as the Virgin Mary; I want to hear that young policeman play on the priceless violin the fiddle tune his father taught him as it sings through the rafters of the little cabin; I want to read the book about the Downs Syndrome children; I want to walk through the forest; I want to sit by the fire in that cozy bistro and eat and eat and eat.

Penny’s books have been a huge part of my life and Three Pines and important village in my cancer/chemo journey. Now I have an even better sense why. Thank you Louise Penny!!! As for the rest of you read her books for sure, absolutely, no questions asked. You will not regret the time spent in Three Pines.

I love these books. Read them and then listen to them; sometimes many times. My daughter does also. I want to live in Three Pines (even in winter). I (actually) do when I read these books.
It is all so real. A new book coming? Yeah!!

I think that you are one of the most generous writers I’ve read. The broad human values in your characters give us all hope and strength. Your own sharing of your personal life is the most amazing gift of all. Thank you,

I am touched by all the compassionate comments above. Louise Penny’s books are such a gift to us and I learn from each one, and you all are reaching out and teaching me, as well. Thank you.

Loss of a loved one never gets easier. It gets different. Joy has been written about forever.
My favorite quote is “Weeping endureth for a night; but, joy cometh in the morning”.

I am so very sorry to hear of your husband’s death. Joy has been commented on forever.
My favorite quote would be,” Weeping endureth for the night; but, joy cometh in the morning”.

All the comments are so interesting to read so thank you everyone. I am not so much surprised by joy as delighted by it so have to think a little longer on the matter. I think I must read that particular book by CS Lewis. In the meantime I can hardly wait until the next book by Louise comes out.

Your books always bring a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes, regularly re-read the series just for the joy of it. I love these newsletters, too. Please don’t slow down (I selfishly beg)…

Thank you Louise Penny for the gift of the Three Pines mysteries. each of these books has spoken to a place in my soul and I look forward to the next one eagerly. there is an innate knowing in each novel as the characters continue to evolve and unfold in ways that are identical to life itself but I feel we often overlook in our mad rush through life. I lost my husband 5 years ago and now feel a deeper bond with Louise Penny. the bench is a wonderful memorial to a special gentleman and all readers of the Gamache books will feel they are sitting on the bench in Three Pines that plays such a part in each novel.

The world today so often feels like a dark place, full of danger. And then I think about Three Pines, and I am reminded that there is always light. Light is never overwhelmed by darkness. However dark it seems, there is light to be found, and that is a very encouraging thought.

I am going through my own health journey searching for my answers. I am always surprised by the joy I find through this process. Thank you for reminding of it!

I am so moved by such amazing people I find who love this author, series, and,characters as much as,I do. Thank you all for your insight. I must now download Surprised by Joy. Love to you all.

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