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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”

Louise’s books are like a multi-chambered nautilus – as we delve down deeper and deeper into her books and their characters, there always seems to be another level of understanding, something else to learn, an additional key, to help us in our comprehension. This morning I discovered another chamber and it made me laugh out loud in the grocery store aisle! In every book, Louise takes great effort in describing Armand by including his signature scent of sandalwood, always mixed with rose water, which we know is Reine-Marie’s scent. Since I have lived on my own for far too many years, I had forgotten that scent, sandalwood, and thought if I could smell it again, perhaps I could gain some additional comprehension of Armand’s character and Louise’s purpose for including this so significantly and so frequently in her writing. In a display of essential oils at the store, I found the sandalwood scent and breathed in its wonderful smell – to me, it smelled of freshness, of wood, yes, but not the heavy richness of cedar or pine, but something lighter, more free, more like driftwood. But it was the recommended use for this scent that got my attention – the label said that it could be used to help one center oneself. And I began chuckling. Of course, what else would Armand use??? – the scent of sandalwood, to remind him of his own solid core of love, understanding, kindness, compassion, gentleness, to help him every day as he encountered anger, cruelty, violence, political manipulation and treachery, and the other evils he had to deal with every day. That scent helps him remain true to himself, his deepest core. How perfect, n’est-ce pas??!

Oh, Susan!! Wow!! I love these new insights of yours! That was well-worth finding out about Armand’s use of sandalwood for his scent. I have thought about Reine-Marie’s rosewater, and also Jean-Guy’s Old Spice and Annie’s lemon. I love it that Armand always embraces Reine-Marie before leaving home, and her perfume blends with his. This is an interesting avenue of speculation!

Susan, I just love how the books reach into our lives. I can imagine you sniffing the sandalwood oil. Yes, just perfect for Armand. I wonder if LP know of the scent’s use to center one ?
I think the description of the mingling of the scents of sandalwood from Armand and the rosewater from Reine-Marie to be the most beautiful and sensitive expression of love and intimacy I have ever heard.

Susan – I so appreciate your thoughtful insights into the technique that LP displays so well. I appreciate it all as I’m reading it, but just like the math homework and “show your work” – it’s all magic to me. I could no more pinpoint WHY I love LP’s writing than I could describe “orange”. I know I love it, and I know why I love it, but I can’t explain. You can. Perfect. The sentence you pulled out is absolutely a perfect sentence, and I love the completion of the thought – the wood-smoke going home. Beautiful. Simple. Elegant.

I sat by the fire drinking hot chocolate this morning, watching the ducks migrate to warmer climes, wondering where I packed my sweaters, and my thoughts turned to memories of my children returning home for the holidays.

Louise has described so many homes in her books.

-Jean Neal’s home, filled with painted memories from floor to ceiling.

-Peter and Clara’s home with two separate and very different hearts. Peter’s filled with sterile useless minutiae and Clara’s filled with paint splatters, crumbs, and hope.

-Ruth’s home with treasures in the cellar, a warm stove, and Rosa the duck.

-Myrna’s loft with its cozy chairs and books.

-The hermit’s cabin of treasures, filled for at least one night with violin music.

I could go on and on, through each book we have been in someone’s home.

Which home is most like your own? And in this world of continuing transitions, which would you most like your home to become?

I think our house is most like Myrna’s loft with cozy chairs and lots of books. Would love to have a wood stove too but there’s no place to put one…and they’re being banned in Montreal 🙁 So sometimes we go to Vermont and sit in our friends’ book lined living room in front of their wood stove. My husband has a favorite quote from the writings of Louise Erdrich which he can’t find at the moment but it goes something like…”decorating is when you add another bookshelf”.

Hmmm. Probably most like Clara’s studio….bits of food and dirt tracked around by kids and dog. Tidiness not a top priority. Artwork everywhere: my son’s detailed with a limited colour palette; my daughter’s generally with bold colours and bursting with happiness. Noisy. And, on mid-winter nights when the cold seeps in, wood fire set in the fireplace.

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!

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