The Annotated Three Pines: The Beautiful Mystery

The Annotated Three Pines: The Beautiful Mystery

The Beautiful Mystery

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From Pg. 12
Then Annie walked over to the bookcases lining her living room. After a few minutes she found what she was looking for. The bible her parents had given her, when she’d been baptized. For people who didn’t attend church, they still followed the rituals.

Louise’s Thoughts:
Armand and Reine-Marie are like many of their generation, and those who are younger. While not following any particular religion, they have a profound spiritual life and belief. But, somewhat contradictorily, they find the rituals meaningful and comforting. Church at the holidays. Baptisms, funerals, weddings in churches. Though the services themselves might be led by friends. The hymns. Many of the prayers are repeated by the Gamaches. Armand will cross himself, when faced with a body. These are hardwired into us. And offer comfort and some sense of continuity.


From Pg. 19
At the very end of the bay a fortress stood, like a rock cut. Its steeple rose as though propelled from the earth, the result of some seismic event. Off to the sides were wings. Or arms. Open in benediction, or invitation. A harbor. A safe embrace in the wilderness. A deception.

Louise’s Thoughts:
Again, this highlights the contradictions many modern Quebecois, and others, find in the trappings of religion. That a church, a monastery, a cathedral could offer both sanctuary and betrayal. That the monastery of St Gilbert, and its occupants, are both of this world, and expelled from it.


From Pg. 30
“All shall be well,” said Dom Philippe, looking directly at Gamache. “All shall be well; and all manner of thing shall be well.”
It wasn’t at all what the Chief had expected the abbot to say and it took him a moment, looking into those startling eyes, to respond.
“Merci. I believe that, mon père,” said Gamache at last. “But do you?”

Louise’s Thoughts:
I liked exploring, in more depth, Armand’s relationship with the institution of religion, and the teachings. His clear displays of respect for the abbot and the other monks, while being aware of recent (and perhaps not so recent) history. I also liked how the abbott could surprise Armand, by quoting a mystic. And a woman. And I liked that Armand recognized the quote as coming from Julian of Norwich. Not perhaps surprisingly, I have a bracelet with that quote, which I cherish. It was given to me by my editor, Hope Dellon, to celebrate the publication of THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY. It proved both the truth and a comfort for what was to come.


From Pg. 146
Gamache glanced through the leaded-glass window. It made the world outside look slightly distorted. But still he yearned to step into it. And stand in the sunshine. Away, even briefly, from this interior world of subtle glances and vague alliances. Of notes and veiled expressions.

Louise’s Thoughts:
Here Armand is feeling oppressed, closed in. The peace he had felt at first, is dissipating, as he discovers more and more about the interior life of the monastery and the monks. As he begins to see more clearly what is really happening, and decode what the music really means to them. It’s also an allusion to perception, and how it is affected by where we stand. From the inside of St Gilbert looking out, the world is warped. While to many on the outside, looking at the life of these monks, their monastic life is warped, unhealthy. Unnatural. It reminds me of a quote, one I believe I used in an earlier book. When Henry David Thoreau was arrested for civil disobedience (not paying a tax that went against his conscience), Emerson visited him in jail. Emerson asked Thoreau, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” Thoreau replied, “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?” Perception. Perspective. Choice.


From Pg. 52
For the first time, Gamache began to wonder if the garden existed on different planes. It was both a place of grass and earth and flowers. But also an allegory. For that most private place inside each one of them. For some it was a dark, locked room. For others, a garden.

Louise’s Thoughts:
Again, the theme repeated in many of the books but perhaps most profoundly in this one, of perspective. Of what is ‘inside’, what is ‘out’? Is the purpose of St Gilbert to keep the the devout monks safe from the sins of the outside world? Or the world safe from the monks? Is it a garden, or a wall? Safety or a prison? Is the music a gift from God to be shared? Or a direct line to a Higher Power, meant only for a chosen few? Again, it reminds me of a quote, this time a perhaps apocryphal headline from the London Times. The homes formed a circle, and in its center was the village green. And in the center of that were the pine trees that soared over the community. Three great spires that inspired the name. Three Pines. These were no ordinary trees. Planted centuries ago, they were a code. A signal to the war- weary.When reporting on a spectacularly dense mist, the headline read: Heavy Fog. Mainland Cut Off.

62 replies on “The Annotated Three Pines: The Beautiful Mystery”

This was one of my favorites in the series. I spent 29 years in a Convent, not as isolated as the one in this book, but I recognized some of the personalities as ones I lived with to a surprising degree. I was heart broken by the path that Jean-Guy took, but found that it was a necessary part of the whole series. I am wiggling with anticipation for the next book to come out in August, and hope I don’t devour it too quickly.

I loved how this installment in the series dealt with religion and spirituality, and–I must admit–the continuation of Jean-Guy’s downward spiral, while absolutely heartbreaking, was gripping reading.

I agree. The ending breaks your heart, but is necessary for what is to come. This books remains vivid in my mind, although it is not my favorite. “How the Light Gets In” is my favorite. The ending is the antithesis of this book, and cathartic.
No other author has moved me in the way Louise Penny does, and I am 73 years old, with a lot of book mileage behind me. Each book is a treasure.

Just finished my third reading of this book and am amazed how differently I’ve reacted to it after each reading. This time I’ve come away with thoughts and feelings that were hopeful rather that depressing. Armand’s strengths are amazing. He is high on my short list of characters I’ve befriended in my great many years of reading.
As I’ve done in the past I’m once again making my way through Louise Penny’s excellent stories as I wait impatiently for the next one.

You paint such beauty with words, and now this was a music lesson. Your exploration of humanity is outstanding. You bring so many levels of understanding to each person’s life and death. Thank you for sharing “perspectives!” This was truly thought provoking.

This was a difficult read; it made me sad; it made me angry. I understand addiction. I kept urging Gamache to get Jean-Guy away from there and back to Three Pines so he could heal. It was painful to see the break between these two men; it was hard to think what this was going to do to Annie, to Madame Gamache.

These passages and Louise’s reflections remind me that my life and my environment does not lie on a single plain – like in Flatland (Flatland welcome )- it is a place/realm/cacophony of many sounds and colors. But, sometimes we get lost, stuck in a place where the way out is obscured for a time. Oh how I identify with the beauty and horror I have seen.
Thank you, Louise, for reminding me that there is always a path out of where we are, we only have to search for it.

Your thoughts add so much as we learn more about dear Gamache and we also have an opportunity to know you better. We see the depth of your faith here. Through your eyes and words the story is felt by us.
I really enjoy these and appreciate you for sharing you with us. I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to meet you and these enable me to know you. Thank you. God bless.

This is one of my favorite books in the series. Thank you for giving us insight to your thoughts as you wrote the book. I just heard you speak in Raleigh, NC. Between that and these annotated notes, it makes me love your books and the characters even more!

I may be out of step with most people but I still believe in my church,(I am a Catholic) Christ came to bring forgiveness and I don’t see a lot of that here but also in real life. Try to forgive those who hurt you. It is a very freeing experience.

It is very difficult to forgive a deep hurt, even knowing how wonderful it would be to be free of those strong, unwanted feelings. As I have told many people who have not read this series because they are not fans of murder mysteries, these books are about more than solving a murder…they are about the inner workings of real people presented in a fictional work.

So so true! Wise words. As a mystery “junkie,” I have often encountered so much excellent writing within that genre. There are insights about the human condition, compassion, hope, and healing as well. The first time I read Still Life (still my favorite) was a cathartic experience. It is a gift for a writer to be able to describe an inner life, the cleansing and clarifying power of emotions expressed. I have found this in the books of the late Reginald Hill, Xiu Qialong, and Ms. Penney. Wonderful books.

Forgiveness comes with difficulty when your body and soul were stolen by a cruel and vicious priest in your childhood. When we girls were told that if we didn’t do as the the priests said, we were bound for hell. This is reality, Bette. The power of the Catholic church has corrupted itself in horrible ways, and has for many, many years. So much damage done. Look into the article about the island off of Alaska, where the priests used the children as their play-toys for generation after generation, while the parents were so afraid that they let it happen. Tabernac (whatever that means)!!!

So enjoying these comments and the series…this particular entry brought to recollection a series I started to write on pairs…thinking I want to bring it out of its box and continue…JeanGuy’s struggles with addiction are painful to understand, if understanding is even possible from the outside. But after reading just this morning of the death of a 20-yr-old mom of two little boys, yes to overdose, I’m determined to read and understand, if only to speak out with youngsters about this terrible thing. Thank you, Louise, for your honesty and frankness in this battle. In my prayers!

Initially I didn’t think I was going to like or even finish this book. BUT, as I read more, I became more involved. What struck me most and so far as I’m only in the mid 200 pages was and still is going through my mind…..the Monks, are they being protected from a sin committed or a life sentence for a sin committed? My fabulous Gamache, how does he have the strength to stay the course with Franceour? Last but not least, Jean-Guy strong minded-willed and yet…….

I’ve read the entire series but could not finish this story. As noted, very difficult themes. I have two friends who lost 3 sons to addiction. I feel like Jean Guy is a son and reading about his struggles was very painful.

Perhaps, for you, the answer is to read “backwards”, to see for yourself Jean Guy’s redemption and whose hand that is realized. You will be so surprised!

Thank you for posting this. I finished the book two weeks ago but have had such a hard time getting over the ugly split. Now I feel like I can read the next book.

Michele, your comment resonated with me as I, too, at the age of 81, have struggled with religion since I was a child. I now am content to be a person of faith. After a long and complicated life ( I could write a book! Not.) it is not easy and I understand. Keep the faith, my dear, keep the faith.

This was probably my least favorite of the series – for a time, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to read the next book when it came out. I have done much personal searching and learning about my religious beliefs and how they fit in my world, so that aspect of the book spoke to me. It was Jean Guy’s struggles that hit me hard. I have a loved one who struggles with addiction and I wasn’t sure I could bear to follow that part of the story. Fortunately, I did finally go back to the series and have since re-read this one. Ironically, this whole series, and your sharing and honesty about the impact of addiction on your life have helped me tremendously in better understanding how I deal with it.

Interesting – this was th first book of the Gamache series that I read and it made me want more.

I’m a pastor and I enjoyed the book by trying to take a look at the bigger picture. While the monastery symbolized faith and dedication, a theme echoed throughout the series, it was also a place where broken people fled. Some were transformed by their time there, some not. Much like the church today, the monastery was filled with people still needing redemption in their daily trials and challenges, still struggling with the deeper issues of life. Some embrace that redemption with their whole heart, some don’t. The series depicts this struggle. Jean-Guy’s story is an exemplar of it. He will struggle, at times be found unfaithful, at others, true. But Jean-Guy ultimately retains the love and trust of his father figure, a beautiful picture of grace.

What a beautiful image and sentiment.
Thank you. The relationship between Jean-Guy and Gamache is one of my favorite aspects of these books. Your comments just revealed a deeper “why” for me.

Thank you for your comment. It helped me see more clearly the struggle Jean-Guy experienced. This was one of my least favorite books, however I have since reread and have learned a great deal.

My least favorite too, and the only one I read on a Kobo. I blame some of my dislike on that. Didn’t stop me from devouring the next one and I’m having a hard time waiting until August. Maybe I will reread this one in a different light.

In this setting, away from Three Pines, we watched the agony of Jean-Guy and his break with Gamache. Heartbreaking. The monastery isolated Jean-Guy enough for evil to come in and overcome him. Could this have happened in a more open setting?

I am a religious person, a Protestant. Some years ago I read something very profound, at least to me it was. The writer said that Evil (Satan, if you like) is only visited on those for whom evil is a problem. The serpent only bothers those for whom temptation is a distraction from trying to live a good life. Why would he spend the energy on someone who doesn’t care about evil in his/her life? He has already won that battle. Now to win more converts to his side; that is his intent. I would suggest Satan is more “present” in a monastery, convent or other religious setting than at any other venue.

I am a spiritual person, a recovering Catholic. Then after being raised Catholic and leaving, I was protestant until I learned that there is monumental corruption there too. How different we Louise Penny readers are! I found myself experiencing “The Beautiful Mystery” in a personal way, having spent time on an island in Quebec myself, where I found peace and quiet (except for the occasional loon–the bird kind). Also, being familiar with Latin and the sound of chanting from my childhood helped me place myself in the book setting. Even the taste of fresh-caught fish, which I enjoy so much–that’s one good thing I brought from my sad childhood upbringing–fish on Fridays. (I don’t think they, the Catholics, do that any more, do they? Abstain from meat on Fridays? Or practice sinner-to-priest confession. Or honor St. Christopher as the patron saint of travel, who bit the dust along with a lot of other saints, for some reason.) Enough about that. My purpose is to say that I found more heavenly peace and comfort on that almost-deserted island, surrounded by the beautiful waters of Blue Sea, than I have even found in a church building of any kind.

Are you interested in a contact with a kindred soul? I would like to know more and share my parallel religious history.

Thank you for your words,Linda. I had just sent comments to the previous book’s site, but should have realized The Beautiful Mystery would fill my heart and mind even more, as it did when I read it. Both your comments and those of Carol Galat which followed them struck me deeply. My personal history was so negatively impacted by the Catholic Church. This book and Bury Your Dead were healing. Your words and, Carol’s are keepers. Thank you

This was the first of Louise’s books that I read, not previously being a mystery fan. I was attracted by the music and was soon enthralled. Now the arrival of a new Louise Penny novel is a highlight of my year. The location, whether Three Pines or elsewhere, is such an important element of the story and brings Canada close, showing the author’s love of home and hearth.

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