From Pg. 1:
Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all round. Miss Neal’s was not a natural death, unless you’re of the belief everything happens as it’s supposed to. If so, for her seventy-six years Jane Neal had been walking toward this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines. She’d fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves.
First line of first book. This wasn’t how it originally started. Still Life first started with Jane waking up and making breakfast, but then I realized I wanted to start with both her death, then get to know her life. And I also wanted very clear, immediate sense of place and season.
From Pg. 27:
‘Three Pines … Three Pines,’ he repeated, as he tried to find it. ‘Could it be called something else?’ he asked himself, unable for the first time with this detailed map to find a village. ‘Trois Pins, perhaps?’ No, there was nothing
I’d searched most of my life for ‘home’ and when I found it in Quebec, it felt like magic. It was so important to me to bring that sense of belonging, of Fate, of gentle magic to Three Pines, right off the bat. That it was only ever found by people lost.
From Pg. 44:
Sun poured in through the stained-glass boys in uniforms from the Great War, scattering blues and deep reds and yellows across the pine floor and oak pews. The chapel smelled like every small church Clara had ever known. Pledge and pine and dusty old books.
Haven’t gone back to this passage in 15 years. I hadn’t realized I put in the stained glass boys so early in the series.
From Pg. 51:
Once his eyes adjusted to the inside of the Bistro he saw not the one largish room he’d expected but two rooms, each with its own open fireplace, now crackling with cheery fires. The chairs and tables were a comfortable mishmash of antiques. A few tables had armchairs in faded heirloom materials. Each piece looked as though it had been born there. He’d done enough antique hunting in his life to know good from bad, and that diamond point in the corner with the display of glass and tableware was a rare find. At the back of this room the cash register stood on a long wooden bar. Jars of licorice pipes and twists, cinnamon sticks and bright gummy bears shared the counter with small individual boxes of cereal.
This is so funny! As the series progressed, my image of the bistro evolved. I now see it, and describe it, as one large room, with huge open fireplaces on either end. And yet, so much else is still the same. The long wooden bar. The licorice pipes!
From Pg. 53:
‘A Scotch, please, Marie,’ said Ruth, suddenly deflating and sinking back into the chair. ‘I’m sorry. Forgive me.’
She sounded to Gamache like someone used to apologizing.
‘I suppose I could blame Jane’s death for my poor behavior, but as you’ll discover, I’m just like this. I have no talent for choosing my battles. Life seems, strangely, like a battle to me. The whole thing.’
Again, I see the beginning here, of Ruth, and her evolution. Later in the series she becomes less obviously vulnerable. A person not at all used to apologizing. And yet, the core is here….a woman who sees life as a battle. A woman who does not overtly apologize, but whose amends are more subtle and perhaps, therefore, more powerful. Love seeing this ‘early’ Ruth and knowing who she became.
From Pg. 82:
‘They are four sentences we learn to say, and mean.’ Gamache held up his hand as a fist and raised a finger with each point. ‘I don’t know. I need help. I’m sorry. And one other.’ Gamache thought for a moment but couldn’t bring it to mind. ‘I forget. But we’ll talk more about it tonight, right?’
‘Right, sir. And thank you.’ Oddly enough, she realised she meant it.
After Gamache had left, Nichol brought out her notebook. She hadn’t wanted to take notes while he was talking. She figured it would make her look foolish. Now she quickly wrote: I’m sorry, I don’t know, I need help, I forget.
This brings back memories on so many levels. When asked in events to recite the four sentences, I almost always forget one, as Gamache does here. Those sentences came from the very first time I met Michael. He opened a meeting by reciting them, and I thought….what an extraordinary man. But, on another level, in the book, I knew I wanted some humor, and it just seemed so human, and yet silly, that Nichol would think ‘I forget’ is a sentence that leads to wisdom.
Discussion on “The Annotated Three Pines: Still Life”
I’m a few books behind, but I’ve loved every book in the series! I am trying to recall, in Still Life, what we are told of the origins of the little town of Three Pines. I am very interested in United Empire Loyalists, and I believe the three pine trees were a sign to Tories crossing into Canada that they were now safe. So approximately where, on today’s map, would that be?
This is a wonderful way to revisit all of the books I have read and loved, while waiting for September 1. I have read many things during this quarantine period, and A Better Man was firt up. I can now have a little moment through the day when I have a dose of “Three Pines.” Great idea, Louise, thank you!
I am amazed that you have Ruth APOLOGIZING in the first book, especially considering what she unapologetically does to someone much later in the series. Wow!
I’m still looking for my page 51 Bistro to drink and dine. I was drawn to Three Pines by so many passages, but I believe this was the first draw. I’m wondering as I write what’s growing in the circle.
This is like going home to a place I truly love. Each book is like going home, but this first one brings the warmth of the fireplace, the love of community and the development of characters home to me.
Hello! I am rereading the series and it is making my pandemic isolation so enjoyable. What a gift! As I reread I am realizing again how beautiful and complex each book is. It’s so lovely to be alone on my couch with Inspector Gamache. Thank you!!!
I hope I haven’t missed this somewhere but may we please have a map of Three Pines? I imagine it the way it’s described in one book and find I’ve got it wrong when further details are added in the next. And could it be published in all of your forthcoming books? Thank you!
I’m going back and listening to the books again. Am I crazy or are there two references in Still Life about Gamache’s parents living a long time? Once he remembers his mother calling her hairdresser when she discovers her husband is dead after 50 years of marriage. The other is about cleaning out her basement after she died. I love that things changed, and it certainly isn’t a detail I remembered as the other books swept me away.
I am rereading “Still life” for the 2nd time”. Thanks for your comments! I had forgotten what ” three pines ” meant that it was a code word! But is also a place!
Hi! Dear Ms. Penny, my wife and I are listening Gamache audiobooks (translated into Russian), and she insists that I write to you that a dead body on the very first page is the best way to begin a book! She also asks if there is any particular reason that helps you to describe all the various foods consumed by the dwellers and guests of Three Pines in such a tasty way. It makes our mouths water, really!
The love affair with these books continues. I just received back my copy of Still Life from a fellow swimmer. Do you know how many people with whom I’ve shared my love of these literary friends? I’ve the entire collection and I’ve just finished A Better Man. I will reread some to trace Ruth and Clara, and I want to trace Myrna. Jean Guy seemed so emotional and shallow early on, but he’s become a genuine hero with his mentor. Keep writing, dear Louise!
Louise, these are great! Even stranger is that I remember so many of them. Looking forward to seeing where Armand goes next in A Better Man.
Daniel Nickle, long time friend, introduced me to your books early this year. I’ve read everything up to A Great Reconning. I think it is my favorite. Thanks for bringing Ganache and all to us. They are now my good friends. As long as you write, I’ll read.
I just received your August newsletter and was reminded of your annotations. Perfect timing as I have been chomping at the bit for August 27 to arrive with my copy of A Better Man. I really enjoy reading them and your incite on the evolution of both the characters and Three Pines. A friend gave me Glass Houses to read a couple of years ago and I was hooked immediately. So back to the beginning with Still Life. I am now caught up on all of the books and hooked my husband as well. A visit to Three Pines is now at the top of my bucket list (Yes I know it is fictional. But I will enjoy the adventure of looking for it.).
Just discovered the annotations today from your newsletter. I read Still Life only last year in my book club. I was immediately hooked! I tell anyone who will listen about the series. I’m collecting all the books in hard cover, something I have never done before. They are precious. Thank you Louise!
I love this. It’s always interesting and actually fun to have entree to the author’s thinking outside of the text of the book. Thank you for this new feature.
My daughter and I have been reading through the Gamache series, her on audiobook and I with the printed page, so she is always ahead of me! But we so enjoy discussing the books characters, plots and themes. Thank you for this additional insight into your wonderful books!
Love, love, love the entire series!!! I’m looking forward to who “A Better Man” will turn out to be!
Thank you for the enlightening background which enriches our understanding of each book!
I’ve used the Still Life philosophy numerous times when Myrna describes how people have a still life. My parents was at 15 when they were both forced to grow up. I say a persons physical body may grow, but not their emotional or maturity may grow. Everyone I’ve told about a still life gets it! I love this philosophy, explains so much about my family.
A woman in my Book Club recommended your books. I have thanked her over and over again. My late aunt was French Canadian and my grandfather’s brother emigrated to Thetford Mines in Quebec so your characters have evoked many happy memories of my childhood. Sometimes I wish I could drive to Three Pines and stop in the Bistro for a glass of wine and a meal. Thank you for writing these wonderful stories and characters.