LOUISE PENNY’S

The Bistro

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Join us here in The Bistro for a discussion on the entire Gamache series. Feel free to ask or answer any questions about any of the books or the series as a whole.

Discussion on “The Bistro”

Susan, You had my attention from your first sentence.. ” I have always been a voracious reader” as have I. I had to show your post to my husband. He laughed at your mention of the books LP’s novels have led you to and commented on living with stacks of books and notebooks I get so enthused about topics and ideas LP introduces in her books and rush to get books and research on the internet. The ability to write as she does is a great talent.
You expressed my feelings about the books so much better than I could.

Although I have always been a voracious reader, I had never been exposed to Louise’s work until earlier this year when an accountant friend recommended her as a good author to read to help slough off the tension of the workday. I picked How the Light Gets In at the time, since I have always loved Leonard Cohen’s poetry, and started in. Then I went back and read every one of her books in order – now twice through – and I cannot get enough. The profundity of her work is amazing; the complexity of her characters truly astonishing; and her ability to draw us into her beautiful reality – Three Pines – is accomplished by evoking our senses and making us believe we are there because we can smell the café au lait, and the garlic and rosemary chicken baking and the earthiness of the autumn leaves, or the feel of icy snowflakes on our cheeks, the sound of the birds in the trees or the sight of the beautiful fall colors or the flowers in the gardens. I now have a large notebook filed with character and location descriptions and quotes that make me think and meditate, and which provide comfort and still an anxious mind.

I have read all of the re-read discussions and the lengthy reviews of the characters and their motivations. However, there does not seem to have been very much discussion of Louise’s techniques in how she accomplishes her magic. One of Louise’s sentences in Still Life is one of the most exquisitely beautiful I have ever read: “Wood smoke whispered out of the chimney to be grabbed by the wind and taken home to the woods beyond.” I have printed out this sentence and have posted it above my desk to provide comfort and grounding during the difficult workday. The words are put together so artistically and sensually – each one evokes such power and beauty. The delicacy of the rising smoke; the strength and guardian-like authority of the wind grabbing it, and “taking it home” – bring the wood’s final by-product full circle back from whence it came. This is genius.

I was also deeply struck by the very beginning of Louise’ newest, TLWH, where all of us open the book and dive in, ready to go sailing through this next adventure. But Louise fills this first chapter with really short sentences, as Armand sits on his bench, seeking comfort and solace and healing. Those sentences slow us down too, and we are made to enter that meditative state to join with Armand, to think, to consider, to really find the depths in what is being said, so we don’t miss everything by just racing on to read the mystery at its most superficial level.

I also really love all of the rabbit holes Louise dives down, to explore all sorts of issues – art, music, poetry. My table is now full of so many authors and books on artwork mentioned in her books. Her books are each seminars in fine arts, psychology, music, history. I have learned so much from these books and consider them enormous treasures. When Louise came out here to Seattle recently on her book tour, I was privileged to attend her book signing here. While waiting a very long time in the line to have her sign my book, I kept considering what I could possibly say to let Louise know the depth of my gratitude for her and for her books and all they have meant to me, all within the 30 seconds or so allotted to each one of us, and in the end felt inadequate to say nothing but a heartfelt thank you. Louise was so kind and so patient with each individual.

Thanks to you all for your thoughts and discussions.

Hi Susan. Lovely summary of some of the amazing qualities of LPs writing. I love her ability to transport us fully to a place by engaging all of our senses. Her descriptions are wickedly good….I put on weight just reading about buttery flaky croissants!

Isn’t it wonderful when we find a whole new series to read that holds us in thrall. I am not sure it happens that often actually. Certainly not to me, but I am grateful to find people to share the reading with…..makes it all the more special and had has really enhanced my experience of the books.

In reply to Susan & Anna…I really enjoyed the post from Susan with all the interesting insights. My only problem at this point is that I’m spoiled by Louise’s writing. Reading anyone else is not the same. Definitely something lacking. Guess we just have to wait for the next LP. Sigh. 🙂

Oh yes. I miss Meg too. Perhaps she didn’t see the notice of the Bistro. I only happened upon it by chance.

I tried some new authors recently, they were a no go. I read one book this week but only out of curiosity. Shallow with no real substance. I enjoy books that are light and humorous but this one was an attempting to be serious and just failed in my eyes.

No “an” before “attempting”. I really need a typing course. I correct typos and sometimes seem to put in odd words.

Anna – I think I was born too late, lots of times. I would be so comfortable in the 1930’s I think, but even in the 1880’s or so. I think that’s why the architecture of the times call to me, I’m sure. I do think that watching so many lovely movies set in those times informs my idea of what those places should look like. I also think that some places elicit an emotional response from us because they stimulate a good memory. Maybe your grandmother’s kitchen looked like this one, or a favorite aunt’s living room. So you might not immediately recognize why, but you have a sense memory of these places, and they bring back good feelings.

For some reason, right now, it’s the 1930’s calling to me – and not just the architecture. The clothes of those times are so beautifully made – not like today’s clothing at all. I know that when I look at pictures of my parents in their youth, the clothes just knock me out! You can see how well-made my mother’s clothes were, even in the photos.

Julie, you obviously appreciate and are drawn to quality and finery. I am hoping the wheel will turn from consumerism and cheaply made clothes and homes etc back to quality and pride in craftsmanship.

My 13 y.o loves the clothes of the 60’s. She also professes to being born in the wrong era!

I used to believe I should have been a contemporary of Scarlett O’Hara’s, but that was because I have such fair skin and had (at the time) an ample figure to array in those wonderful clothes. In reality? I’m more than happy with when I am.

Lizzy, it’s so nice to have you with us when you can manage to drop in!! Things are hectic for you right now, but congratulations on your son’s upcoming wedding.

Anna, you are in my thoughts as you struggle through these difficult times with your mother. The Bistro is always open and welcoming whenever you drop in! What a delicious idea to have the Bistro!

Anna, thank you for recommending the Elizabeth George book – I’ll look into that. I was interested in your saying that in the process of creating, it develops its own energy and that keeps you going. I have heard artists and writers say that sort of thing. Your characters and stories develop their own momentum. I’d say when that happens, they have got beyond being simply exercises of the mind, but have come alive.

Julie, They are lovely. What a shame the owners do not have similar houses facing them. Many of the Victorian houses on one street here in Augusta are used as lawyers offices, restaurants, and other businesses. They don’t have a good view either. Although, the median is nice specially when the Azaleas bloom. Other streets have blocks of Victorian Houses mixed with more recent but equally attractive houses and gardens. Architecture is so exciting. I have studied the magnificent facades of some of our buildings for hours at the time. I also find Victorian Cemetery art ( markers) beautiful.

Barbara – I’ve had the Victorian bug, too. We have a little row of “painted ladies” in Seattle, in the most unlikely and unromantic of streets. There must be a covenant when you buy into one of them, as they are always well-maintained and painted up pretty. Here’s a Google Street View of them: http://tinyurl.com/kmm2np8
They are in a little row in a spot that is leading into an industrial area, and across from a community college, so no pretty views for them. But I always love driving by.

Hi, LIZZY, A family milestone. Glad you remembered us. Drop by anytime.
JULIE , I build houses in my mind too. I was a fanatic about every thing Victorian at one point. None of the many Victorian houses here were exactly as I would have wanted. I took ideas from 4 or 5 and built my own…….in my mind, of course. At another time, I was enthralled with Art Deco and still am. I notice any design or feature on TV or magazine that is Art Deco. I think a condo in Art Deco would be beautiful.

Loving the talk of architecture Julie and Barbara. The Victorians are gorgeous. Why do you think we like certain styles? I know I like architectural detail, and well shaped rooms with cozy spaces.

I was thinking about sense of place and wondered why you can feel as though you belong in a house the first time you walk in, as opposed to the idea of attachement developing over time? The house we now live in was exactly one of those places that we had to have because it felt so warm and welcoming. Places do develop their own spirits and personalities, their own energy, separate to our interaction with them.

Anna – I think that once you get going on a creative project it absolutely creates its own energy. I know of several things that seemed like huge jobs and I kind of dragged my heels about starting them, but once I was into them, I got enthralled, and just kept working and working… The best results always came from that kind of work for me!

Lizzy – congratulations on the upcoming wedding. I know it must be overwhelming, but fun, too! So glad you popped in!

Sylvia, I have been enjoying the DCI Banks TV shows – so I should really check out the books – I will never be able to read them all, but I love Yorkshire, too. I haven’t been there much – just twice, for visits, but the beauty of the place is astounding, and of course, the wonderful All Creatures Great and Small TV show showcased them so beautifully. My husband and I watched them all again just a year or so ago, and they were just as enchanting the second time around. If I immerse myself in books or TV shows like that, I start to talk like the characters, and tha’ wouldn’t believe how I started to sound after that, hahahaha.

Nancy, I’ve often thought that I didn’t give Mitford a good chance and that I should pick it up again sometime. Maybe I will. I don’t know if I still have the book or if I gave it away – I need to go through all my old books and start finding new homes for them. I have a friend who collects books to be given to prison inmates, and I’m sure I could load up a few shelves there. I also need to take some to the local library sale, and then, of course, I do need to save some to swap in the Paperback swap club. My goal is to not have any physical books on my shelves – lots of Kindle books, and lots that just come in, get read, and go out… Exceptions are made for special books, of course.

Anna – I think you are right on with your “sense of place” theory – now I really can’t wait to read your book! I always think I’m a little bit odd in that I seem to have an emotional reaction/relationship with everything, hahahaha. But I know that places do that to lots of people – it’s why people who are house hunting can walk into a house and just feel a connection to it for no good reason – it’s “home” (a subject we’ve explored a bit before). I get that from lots of different kinds of buildings, and when I’m building “castles in the air”, I make them lots of interesting different kinds. For awhile, my heart’s desire was a log cabin, but my latest is a condo decorated in Art Deco style – I even know what kind of tile goes where, and what kind of countertops in the kitchen. I think it would be the coolest retirement place! 😀

Love it Julie, I am always building houses in my mind. Do you know Houzz? Great website and app that is like having a million glossy magazines to browse.

I will have to hurry up and finish my book so you can read it. Maybe I can publish it here….paragraph per post….tee hee

Anna – I ran across a lot of Houzz pictures when I was Pinteresting Art Deco pics. The kitchen and baths in Art Deco are such wonders. I’m glad I’m not the only one building those castles in the air. I have also spent time in imaginary beach houses, English cottages (especially with thatched roofs) and Victorian homes, but some were totally imaginary in that, if confronted with a thatched roof, for instance, I’d probably run, thinking of what’s living in that roof! Lovely to look at, though. I know I could never afford the beach house I have in my mind’s eye, and a Victorian wouldn’t be practical as I get older. But that condo – now, I could definitely LIVE there! 😀

Julie, I think one of the wonderful things about books is that “all the best people” don’t agree. A given book may receive many, many great reviews, but there are pretty much always some who were not so impressed and, luckily, are willing to say why. That keeps us all thinking and re-examining our own point of view. Also, I think we should feel comfortable not liking a book that someone we respect loves. We don’t expect to love the same movies or pieces of art or music.

Congratulations Lizzy on the upcoming wedding! I am sure life is very hectic. How nice you were able to pop in the The Bistro and say hi.

Hi lovelies!
Just poking my nose in to say a quick hi. Life is snowballing for me. Many things going on, not to mention my son getting married on the 25!

Sending best wishes to Anne and Millie!

Anna, your brother sounds like my husband. “Was there milk for the coffee?” And I’ll bet he was very glad he had noticed and helped you! A different kind of mind? My husband is an engineer, so there you are.

Cathryne my brother is a scientist. Pedantic yes, but then so am I so I shouldn’t complain. The difficulty I have discovered that while writing the book I see the scenes rendered complete in my head, like movies. When I go back and re read to edit, the scene plays again in my head and I assume I have written in details that I haven’t, or I don’t even think of the details that aren’t there because “I can see them” and forget they aren’t on the page.

I have to be grateful to my brother but I have told him to make a note of issues and see if they are still there after I edit because I might not be up to hearing critique just yet. He was good about it. The best bit is he keeps asking to see more so that is encouraging.

Interestingly, I have very few authors I would follow anywhere, and most are no longer alive, so I know exactly where I’d be following, and, of course, that’s not the same thing at all. LP is the only one I know of. I have a confession that will just flabbergast some of you – I tried the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency (read the first book) AND the Mitford series (read the first few chapters) and they did nothing for me. Just kind of laid there. I don’t know why. I SHOULD like them (all the best people do) from all accounts. I’ve been hearing of them for years from friends and family, and… meh. So I guess I’m the odd duck. For me, LP’s works contain a good story, wonderful characters, and a compelling setting unique to Canada. I think it’s the setting, and the acknowledgment that Canada is a different place, that drew me here in the first place, and keeps me here. Even though I’ve never been to Quebec, and Quebec, within Canada, is unique as well, there is enough “Canadian-ness” that it really speaks to me.

Julie, there are books other people love that I just can’t get into, very much like you. The Canadianess of LPs books is a big draw for me too. I think some books are like places that draw us back and different places draw different people.

It’s odd but I have this theme in my book and I used the phrase ‘sense of place’ and then went and did a lot of reading on the topic. I am giving some of book away here, but there is a lot of research in architecture and environmental psychology on sense of place. Spaces become places through our emotional interaction with them. A fellow called Shamai delineated different levels of attachment to place from placeless to willing to die for a place. A place can be a chair, a room, a house or a country.

I think LPs books give us a sense of place which is a big part of their attraction….they bring us home. That is obvious from our talk of being Three Piners and even our love here of the Bistro.

Julie, my husband started At Home in Mitford and couldn’t get into it. Maybe because he was a minister and still working. (Too close to home.) Anyway, after he retired he picked up the last book which at that time was Home to Holly Springs, and after reading it he just sailed through the rest. I couldn’t believe it. (I like things in order.) I must confess that the second book was my favorite for a long time since things really ‘pick up’ in it. So you might have better luck by starting there….if you want to try again. I too have many favorites who have died which means that I maintain a collection of their books because the libraries no longer stock them. Have you ever read Eleanor Taylor Bland, Bruce Alexander , Tony Hillerman or the Thurlos (David and Aimee…sadly Aimee died this year). I like the characters in these books and for me the mystery is secondary. But, at the end of the day, no one compares to Louise. She is exceptional…as we all can see.

Julie, while I was raving on about the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, one of my friends told me she just didn’t get it! I can’t understand what there was not to get, but I guess it’s a good thing we don’t all think alike – how boring the world would be! I do love the Canadianness of Louise’s books as well. I was born in England and came to Canada as a young woman, lived in Quebec’s Eastern Townships for a few years and then near Montreal. I love Canada as only a “convert” can! I consider the Eastern Townships my first Canadian home – now I live in the Maritimes, which is also a very homey place. Interesting about place and what and how much it means to people. I’m so thrilled to have found these wonderful books. I was advised by friends to read them in order, so I bought the first nine books all at once and read them in order. With the overarching theme of the “Arnot case” and Francoeur it made sense to read as that was gradually revealed. I have also loved the books of Peter Robinson, who places his stories in Yorkshire, England. I was there on a trip with my husband once (I’m London-born myself), and I just loved the Dales. His stories are fast-paced and I love the members of the homicide team – DCI Alan Banks, DI Annie Cabott, and DS Winsome Jackman (who is another beautiful black Jamaican, but younger than Myrna). He has a new book coming out the 28th of this month. They are very entertaining, but not on the level of literature that Louise’s books are. She is such a gem and we are so lucky to have found her! We are also blessed in knowing something about her, and her sharing her personal life. I’m sure she knows that we care about her and her husband as people; that was quite a risk to be open about difficulties she has had to deal with. I’m grateful this is a place where several of us have felt safe and able to share.

Sylvia, I was writing a minute ago and everything went away. I don’t think it posted in a strange place. Whatever, I’ll try again. I was saying that I am a most unflattering shade of green after reading your post. I have always been an anglophile (don’t know why). I become so involved in books that my speech goes into English mode. My sister and I love Brit coms and mysteries on TV. We often pepper our conversations with English colloquialisms (just between the two of us–not in public). After reading several English novels consecutively, my spelling jumps to the English rather than American.
Canada is so beautiful and I would love to see more of it. We have enjoyed every trip there and found the people very patient with all of my questions. I have internet searched and read travel books about The Eastern Townships and the Maritimes and of course Quebec….coast to coast to be truthful.
I, too, am grateful for Louise Penny, her publishers and all who have made this literary journey possible. I hope all concerned know what a wonder it all is. So much more than ever
dreamed I am sure.

Julie, I had to laugh at your last paragraph. What fools they would be. I hope the next story will be more normal or a least what passes for normal in Three Pines. I have some not yet well- developed ideas of threads that could be picked up. I’ll share when they are better formed.
Wouldn’t you love to read LP’s “story boards”. I would like to know just how much she had plotted out by the end of A Fatal Grace. She must have plotted many books ahead for the Francoeur arc. I can imagine outlines with notations of “threads to be placed in book # whatever”.

Interesting, Barbara! I have no idea whatsoever of how the creative process works. Whether it comes in big chunks and an author can see several books ahead, or just enough for the book he or she is on at the moment. Somewhere along the line, we talked about the brain – I am predominantly left-brained, meaning that I’m more organizational than creative. So any insights into the creative process interests me a great deal. That’s what I have enjoyed about these discussions – I have grown in my understanding of how Louise has created the books. Thanks to all for all your thoughts!

Sylvia, if you are interested in the creative process of writing then Elizabeth George has written a book on the topic called Write Away. My husband is reading it and suggested it to me. I don’t do the planning she does, at least not on paper. The stories write themselves. I am keen to write another book as one of the characters seems to be busting to tell her story and I want to know what it is. I think if I planned it out I would get bored writing because I would know too much of the story. Hope that makes sense.

I did hear LP comment in one of her videos about planning the story arc. I am not sure if she knew exactly how it would play out until she started writing but I sensed she had some plan.

Anna, I’m so glad to hear another character wants her story told. I think authors differ in the ways they form their stories. From what I have read about the process some are methodical and some let the story tell itself. I’ll check out the Elizabeth George book just to see her take on the process.
Good thoughts to you and your Mother.

Thanks Barbara. Always appreciate your gentle kindness.

I have to find the time and energy to finish book one and work on book two.

Creativity is odd in that it needs energy to get started but, for me, often generates its own energy for quite a while after I get started. Does anyone else find that with creative activities?

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