Still Life (Book 1) Re-Read

Author Louise Penny

A Note from Louise Penny

Welcome to the first meeting of the Three Pines Book Club—gathering in this virtual location of Myrna’s New and Used Bookshop.

Our first book to re-read is Still Life. I suspect most of you have already read it, but I also think some of you might be new to the series.

The novels are set, for the most part, in the fictional Quebec village of Three Pines.

I created the village as a place of refuge. A place I would choose to live. That was beautiful, and peaceful. That offered company, companionship—as well as croissants and rich café au lait. And licorice pipes.

I was much taken, years ago, when reading Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Orlando, the main character, had lived many lifetimes in many guises. Now, I’m paraphrasing the opening of that book, but Woolf wrote something to the effect that over the years, in each of those lifetimes, Orlando was looking for only one thing. It wasn’t riches. It wasn’t power. It wasn’t even love.

What Orlando yearned for was company.

I’d been through periods in my life when I thought I would die from loneliness. And so the idea of belonging, of company, of home, was powerful.

The world, when I started writing Still Life, was suddenly a pretty scary place. 9/11 had happened the year before and more attacks seemed imminent and would almost certainly be completely unexpected. Suddenly places and activities that had seemed benign, safe, fun, were riddled with insecurity.

I wanted to pull the sheets up over my head, stay in bed, and read.

But, like you, I couldn’t. But what I could do was create that safe place.

Oddly, perhaps, I also chose to violate it—by bringing murder into the pretty little village, and into the lives of Clara, Peter, Ruth et al.

But it also brought Chief Inspector Gamache. The decent man, who made a living investigating the indecent act of homicide.

Just as I created a community I would live in in Three Pines, and villagers I would choose as friends in Clara and Myrna and Gabri etc—I also intentionally created, in Armand, a man I would marry. Because, in many ways, I knew if Still Life spawned a series it would become like a marriage. And he needed to have the qualities I admire in a man. In anyone. The qualities I strive for, and so often fall short of, myself.

But peace untested might prove an illusion. And so Three Pines is tested when Miss Jane Neal is murdered.

And goodness might be shallow, situational. And so Gamache is given Agent Nichol to test him and, more insidious, the Arnot case. To see if he really is a decent man, or just pretending to be when things are going his way. The first reference to Arnot is in Still Life—it clearly refers to something horrific, but unexplained, in Gamache’s past. And in the recent history of the Sûreté du Quebec.

This was intentional. It was important that it be clear that all these characters have pasts, and we are coming in mid-life, mid-leap. But, as with new friends, all will eventually be revealed.

Here now, in Still Life, we are introduced to Gabri and Olivier, to Ruth, the demented old poet. To Clara, who creates art from her heart, and Peter, the more successful artist in their marriage. To Ben, who never strays far from home, and Myrna, who found a home in Three Pines. And all the other villagers whose lives mix and join together. From here their stories move forward, but we also see further and further back. To what made them who they are.

These books are murder mysteries, but they’re not about murder. They’re about love and belonging, about loyalty and choices. And the courage to be good.

Watch video of Louise Penny discussing Still Life:

Posts & Discussion

The following post(s), written by a guest blogger, are open for you to participate with your comments. Spoiler Alert! These posts and discussions can include spoilers for the book's plot. We recommend that you finish reading the book before delving any further.

Still Life, Part 2

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

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

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Still Life, Part 1

I recently heard Louise Penny interviewed by her publisher, and, knowing Louise now, it came as a surprise to hear her say she identified with Agent Yvette Nichol. However, here’s the final paragraph in the Acknowledgements in Still Life. “I went through a period in my life when I had no friends, when the phone never rang, when I thought I would die from loneliness. I know that the real blessing here isn’t that I have a book published, but that I have so many people to thank.” I never knew that lonely Louise. She herself is an example of the duality she writes about. I see her much more as Clara Morrow, and, she has said that as well. (Doesn’t an author put herself into many characters?) Clara is a kind woman, who really wants to belong. I only know that Louise Penny, the warm, kind woman who reaches out to others.

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