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”

I know what you mean about the high level conspiracies, Anna. I don’t understand why there are so many TV shows right now about terrorists. Well, okay, I DO – people want to see our side winning. But I find the whole thing way too close to home and too disturbing to see as “entertainment”. I’m not saying put our heads in the sand or our fingers in our ears, while we shout out “woo woo woo” – we need to know what’s going on, but we don’t need to see it for “fun”.

I have wondered where we go from here, too – surely, Gamache has burned those ships as far as the Sûreté is concerned. So… now what? It was interesting that the Gamaches had kept their Montreal apartment, and I see why they needed it for this kind of work, but now what? Of course, Louise has only just let her Montreal apartment go – so maybe it’s a corresponding thing.

Thanks Cathryne. I like the examples you highlight. I have both the kindle and hardback and underline on the kindle version. But this time I did not highlight anything and I usually do. I need to reread and see if I missed things by reading quickly.
I am not sure what I felt was simply a consequence of the danger in Three Pines, although the children on the green was a chilling touch. We have been there before with evil battling good in Three Pines. Perhaps it was more peripheral then and this time the town itself was being used as a tool in a sordid game. I am not sure.
I can not imagine where Louise goes from here. Last time the Surete imploded. This time it felt like it exploded and I sort of long for a simple murder and a mystery to solve. High level conspiracies feel a little too real somehow.

Love those examples, Cathryne, and they helped me to grasp more fully what Anna was asking… I think we’ve talked before about the “magic” qualities of Three Pines. And I think this goes right to what you were saying, Anna – this book WAS different. Something ugly had been brought right in to Three Pines without regard for all the wonderful people there. I will be struck, for a long time, by the image of the village children playing on the green, dropping to the ground at the sound of gunshots – as if they had been shot. And, in a way, they had. There will never again be a time when they didn’t know that evil can be right beside you without you even knowing about it.

Yesterday, I was reflecting on something my mother said to me. I was with her on 9/11 and she said “the people on TV keep saying that nothing will ever be the same again, but it will. Things will go back to normal.” Even then, it showed me that she didn’t really understand what was happening (and to be fair, she was old, and living in Canada, her life wasn’t going to change). But I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. We now lived in a world where such things happened. Where people so hated others that they could do something this monstrous. That’s how I feel things will be for Three Pines. Even though the routes and hidey-holes had been used before for alcohol during prohibition, the evil didn’t really show up until people were willing to kill each other and innocent bystanders in a cafe over a package of drugs.

I don’t know if Three Pines can recover from this… well, I know they will, and they will be stronger for it, but they won’t have the same innocence. And, of course, maybe the innocence was a sham.

The phrases that I found are not examples of beauty or majesty, as you asked, Anna, but powerful in Louise’s way of offering us a way of finding reassurance, safety, comfort in an unfamiliar, overwhelming situation.

I’m an underliner, I just have to underline in books I love, and make notes on the back endpapers. So, certain books I buy so I can mark.
One part I liked in Glass Houses was during a conversation between Myrna and Anton.
P. 18. Anton didn’t join the party in the bistro. He said, “I could’ve come out, but I’m not big on parties. Being in the kitchen suits me.”
“Myrna nodded. She understood. We all have, she knew, a place where we’re not only most comfortable, but most competent. Hers was her bookstore. Olivier’s was the bistro. Clara’s was her studio.
Sarah’s, the bakery. And Anton’s was the kitchen.”
It reminded me of a scene in The Long Way Home–Clara sitting, terrified, by the window as a storm tossed their boat in a gale (p.327), “so that the people inside were tossed this way and that, without warning…Clara had her sketchbook and pencil case on her lap, but kept them unopened. ‘Were you planning to do a drawing?’ Gamache asked. ‘No, I just feel safe, holding them.’ She brushed the metal pencil holder with her finger, like a rosary, and held onto her sketch pad like a Bible.”
I love your question, Anna, and will be thinking about it. Tomorrow too busy but I’ll be back.

That’s an interesting point, Anna – and one I hadn’t considered at all – I’m not sure… I’m not one to highlight things… Right now, I’m preparing for a group discussion of a few chapters of Northanger Abbey for our Jane Austen group, and I have a few things in my mind that I’d want to bring out in discussion, so have been trying to highlight. I find that I’m highlighting whole pages of things – so obviously, this is a concept I have not yet grasped fully.

I can’t think of any phrases or ideas that grabbed at me, other than the one that’s mentioned several times – “Burn your ships”. I’d never heard this phrase, and like Beauvoir, I found myself googling it. It’s interesting – to me, it’s very like “burn your bridges” (and probably where burn your bridges comes from – a fractured retelling of the story). This never seems like a good idea to me, of course. Making sure you can’t go back is different from deciding not to backtrack or retreat. I think that Cortés didn’t trust his men not to retreat, so he made a decision for them. Gamache did a similar thing in not trusting a lot of the people in the Sûreté.

Other than that, I don’t think I’ve got anything. I know there was a whole “Lord of the Flies” thing, that didn’t mean a lot to me, as I read that way back in elementary school, and I don’t remember a lot of it. I do know that Beauvoir, again, felt compelled to read the book, so there must have been something to it. I just felt it was a book that said our natural behavior is brutish. But reading it at 12 or so, of course, I wasn’t going to get any real nuance out of it.

Did any one feel this book was different to the rest of the series? Not in the alternating timeframe but the tone or the style of the writing?
In previous novels I found myself stopping frequently, caught by the beauty or majesty in the turn of a phrase and it is something we have commented on. I remember highlighting frequently. What phrases affected you this way in this book.

Exactly. The saving grace, of course, was that Gamache WAS aware there may be consequences, and was prepared to face them. He even told the Crown that it could mean jail if they were caught throwing the trial. BUT, when the end came there were little consequences to pay. The Crown and Gamache lost their jobs (I think – I did read that part fast), but Gamache never meant to stay on anyway, I think. Like at the school – it was a “I’ll come aboard to fix THIS” and then move on. He’s lucky the judge didn’t pay any price, because it’s conceivable that she’d have been fired, too… And there’s no sense even that they lost pensions, reputation, etc. – I think both were allowed to resign quietly.

All that said – yes, who wouldn’t run a red light on a deserted street if their dying mother was in the car? There are times when each of us might do something. I go back and forth. I guess in this case, it’s all the lives lost to the drugs that made it through in the year or so that they stopped policing the drug lords… How do you explain to that mother or father that some future lives were worth more than their child’s?

It’s very tough to get around. And, if we can accept that Gamache was right (a big “if”) then it was an exciting read and moved the characters further along the spectrum of their growth. On some level, it would be worth it just to get such people out of Three Pines…

I know what you are saying Julie. I keep tossing that question around….is it ok to break the law for the greater good and what are the consequences if we do? It is a very difficult question because I can see situations when I can understand people breaking the letter of the law to save a loved one for example. Situations of domestic violence come to mind where maybe someone has to take their child and go on the run breaching a court order.
Laws are interesting things. They are, after all decisions made by humans in an attempt to codify what is “right” but we humans don’t necessarily appreciate all the nuances of what a law might mean, or what it might be interpreted to mean.
I remember a scene from the movie “Dave” when the Chief of Staff and the Communications Director were trying to convince Dave it was ok to break the law to protect the country. The Communications Director asked Dave if he had ever run a red light on an empty street late at night when there was no-one around and it was perfectly safe. I think Dave was leaning to no. So he asked if he would do it if he had his sick mother in the car and was racing her to hospital. That was a probable yes. The point was we understand there are rules but sometimes circumstances supersede them. How far do we go if it is ok to run the light, and I think it probably is, if a life is at stake?
The hard thing too is balancing many lives against many other lives. Who is more important? The answer is all lives are the same….but are they??

Hmmmm – re Clara’s art, I think it must be implied, as I don’t remember reading it put that way at all… but I do think that’s the message – you’ve got it spot on. And, of course, by that point in the book, I was reading fast and not as carefully as I was earlier on. I started out reading one or two chapters at a time and then reflecting on them. But once everyone was gathering at the Bistro for the ending scenes, I was racing to the next scene.

I remember thinking when Lacoste called home and said she loved them that she was now living on “short time” – so I felt she was imperiled from that point on. So happy that it seems she will recover.

Back to your earlier post regarding opioids, etc. – you are very right, Anna. What kind of doctor would not have understood how addicting they are, when I know that people were talking about how addicting Oxycontin was at least 25 years ago – how long does this have to be a problem before anyone addresses it? It’s ghastly to me how prevalent it has become. And it shows a marked propensity to pass the buck of blame and try to sue people for being able to fool you. For the doctors to be fooled to that extent, they had to be complicit.

And yes – what, really, did Gamache accomplish? He shut down one big drug runner and lots of old established routes – how many will spring up to take their place? Drugs, illegal or prescription, are not now “solved”. And what did he lose of himself, and require the Crown prosecutor to lose in the doing of it? Are we going to find an Armand Gamache who is lost in the coming books?

I was very uneasy with the whole concept of sometimes there’s a higher power to be answered to – your conscience rather than the law. That way lies anarchy. We see in the US today very clearly what happens when people “follow their hearts” rather than their minds. Darkness lurks in enough hearts to make it very scary. If even a good man like Gamache could decide that it was for the “greater good” that he allow so many drugs to pass through the border while he lulled the “bad guys” into a false sense of security, what would the average man be able to convince himself was better than the law? And, look how close they came to losing that battle – it was definitely not a foregone conclusion that the police would win that fight.

Do you think Clara’s art was a reflection on Louise’s part that in life we are never truly complete…never finished and polished but always a work in progress…and what really matters is what and who we love? Did she say that in the novel or did I just feel it was implied?

We see her. That is exactly right Julie. And for a while I don’t feel I see Gamache as clearly. He seems harder and more closed. I understand that he has fought corruption and the lingering effects of his previous nemesis, but still it is hard to watch. It is indeed lonely at the top. But while it is hard to trust people in that position he does, and he creates a team of people he trusts. Perhaps he needed to look wider and higher so that he could achieve the same goal in a different way.
My bigger problem is, how much did he really achieve? The roots of the current opioid epidemic lie with prescription drugs. The very portrait of an addict is vastly different today. I read a few hour ago that 41 states in the US are looking at charges against pharmaceutical companies for misleading doctors about the addictive capabilities of newer medications. It is true but it is a poorly informed doctor who wasn’t listening in med school if they did not understand that all opioid agonists have addictive potential. Because the meds came in tablet form not injection, they were treated as safer than morphine etc and because patients didn’t need a nurse to administer them patients left hospital and supervision faster. And so unsupervised many were left to become addicts. That was one pathway.
Opioids and nuclear weapons…two genies we have let out of the bottle. Both promise to end different kinds of pain and yet they hold us to ransom.
I too used to think that once used we would be twice shy in unleashing nuclear weapons again but I do not think that anymore. Humanity has a very short collective memory. I think what I recoiled from in Gamache is that even good men can justify actions that seem unacceptable, so what actions might we see from unprincipled men? (I use men in the generic sense). Do we all reach a point where we deem our judgement to be the most important determining factor for our actions? Isn’t that a dangerous place to be?

How about Clara’s art? The way everyone was bothered because it all seemed so unfinished, and then the tiny spot of love seen in the eyes – I found that very profound, too. Just that tiny spark of whatever each person loved most. So interesting that she still has surprises in store for everyone…

Michael, the archangel – yes, no wondering where he came from! Not being religious at all, these are some of the things that I don’t get to feel in the same way as others do. Yet, I am very much attuned to what the Universe (for want of a better word) tries to teach me some days. Other days, of course, I’m quite oblivious! I’ve always thought of Michael as a mischievous angel, and that he came to Ruth to talk things over was a masterstroke! In fact, I think that was one of John Travolta’s best roles – after he’d had his “comeback” in Pulp Fiction. He played Michael very well, I thought – full of fun, but a little dark, and definitely irreverent.

Oh, yes, I had and have a really hard time sometimes, with the way Gamache skirts the law. I understand why he did it, but was it right? Was it the only way? I’d not heard of “burning one’s ships” before – that was a revelation to me. (such an inadequate education!) I have an even harder time with how he keeps people in the dark – this time, it was the Crown, whom he had enlisted, knowing he could possibly end his career, ruin his reputation, and STILL didn’t level with him. These are hard things to me. I trust Gamache to do the “right” thing, but is it always the ONLY right thing? Could there be another way?

Corruption all around you is bound to make you suspicious of everyone, of course. But it still seems a bit high-handed to me. There are times when I have to remind myself that “it’s only a book – it’s only a book”…

Barbara, I agree about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and I think that because we have used that terrible, terrible weapon, we seem almost ready to use it again… Einstein said he didn’t know what weapons would be used in WWIII, but that WWIV would be fought with sticks and stones. We seem so close to that apocalypse sometimes now, that it’s frightening to ponder. And when we dropped the bombs over Japan, did we set the stage for today – have we always remembered it’s in our back pocket? I used to think that because it was used once, it would never be used again, but I’m no longer so sure.

To go back to the book – the children playing on the green, falling as if they’d been killed and staying on the ground, not knowing what to do… that image haunts me. You can’t “unknow” that kind of horror.

Ruth’s rough edges have been worn a little, and I love that. I think it’s after she had confronted some of her own demons in The Nature of the Beast – and she seems softer somehow. But I think you’re right, Anna – smaller, too. Perhaps it’s aging, but perhaps it’s change. She no longer needs to be “on guard” quite as much. That the paramedic could think of her as a kindly grandmother – first I laughed, but then I knew that she really did feel that. In some ways, Ruth is the purest character. There’s perhaps some pretense as she protects herself from life’s slings and arrows, but for the most part, we see her.

I don’t think there is a problem with your ethics Barbara. It is a very similar question. What price the sacrifice? Particularly if the gambles had not paid off…for the Allies or for Gamache. History looks favourably upon the winner who really does get write the narrative while the critics have a lot to so about the losers. Which is not to diminish the atrocities committed during WW2. I am guessing the families of the addicts who died would have a very different opinion from the ones that were saved.

I am uneasy with the way Gamache set up the capture of the drug lords. The drugs that were allowed to freely enter the US caused much suffering. Yes, in the end it paid off for the future….for all the people who would not become addicts as the drug traffic was stopped.
But what about those who did become addicted when the drugs were so abundant ? Lives destroyed and crimes committed against people by addicts. I have always had guilt about the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan by my country. Yes, I have read and heard discussions that many American lives were saved and that I would have cheered the bombings if a loved one had been in the US military. I still think of those Japanese civilians who suffered as well as all who died.
My idea of right and wrong, ethics, just doesn’t allow for much leeway.
The ending of the book was excellent and I am already wondering about the next book.

Thanks for the opening gambit Julie and hi Paul. We do think of you often. Must plan my next trip to NY around a coffee near the Flatiron.
I agree with the heat Barbara…similar to DC dripping humidity.
I also agree with you Julie, the villain was not a massive surprise, although the back story was less obvious. But for me the true interest in the book is always the moral dimension.
The challenge with Gamache, and with any leader, is when they step beyond the bounds and constraints of the law under which they operate. Gamache has skirted along this line before, arguing for the greater good as his justification. Is it? What happens to the sanctity and the power of the court if one man can decide which laws it is necessary to follow and which laws it is ok to break?
It is purely coincidental that I am reading the Impossible Presidency-a history of the office of the President. It is fascinating on one hand and scary on the other, to see how the role of the President of the USA evolved as the Constitution was a tad light on in detailing what the office was to be. At various times Presidents have taken it upon themselves to break rules and conventions and often for monumental reasons. I am reading about Lincoln and he ended slavery singlehandedly, without Congress when the President isn’t supposed to actually make laws.
Gamache is very like Lincoln in lots of ways…his clarity of speech, his common touch and connection with people and his belief in something bigger than himself. But Gamache is subject to the law….or is he?
I did love Ruth and her strength is amazing but she seems to be shrinking physically. I think Louise has captured the ageing of Ruth impeccably. Her capacity to develop her characters and their natural evolution is a real feature of Louise’s writing. Did any of the characters surprise you in their development or lack of it in this book?
I am beginning to feel that Three Pines is not quite the sanctuary that it used to be. The finale was yet another shattering event in that tight community. Does that reflect the world at large at the moment…nowhere seems very safe, be it from natural disasters, cyber threats or threats of war?
The theme of the Angel Michael was a lovely one from Louise. I don’t think we need to debate how that came about. We need Angels in our lives. Apart from Paul (yes you are one) do we all have the feeling that our lives have Angels that appear when we need them most?
I hope all are safe out there, particularly Millie in Florida. You may not have power yet Millie but we have our fingers crossed for you.

Another wonderful book, but of course it would be. The ending really surprised me and my eyes were filling with tears when Ruth went back in to Lacosta. I’ll grab my book for a quick refresher and get back for a more in depth discussion.
The terribly hot courtroom made me think of our summer here in Georgia.

Paul Hochman – I know I’ve been a very slow reader, and with hurricanes and earthquakes blasting everyone from all angles, maybe nobody feels like discussing the book… but I wonder if people are maybe waiting for you to declare the Bistro open for discussions? Or for some questions to get us started?

When I was lucky enough to meet Louise on her book tour this time, I told her that our little group (the die-hards) have taken to calling ourselves “Paul Hochman’s Bistro Bunnies”, and she was going to tell you – I’m hoping we didn’t offend?

Or is it just so busy that you barely have time to type each book before it heads out the door? Whatever it is, we are here when ready, and would love to get a discussion going. I COULD discuss it all by myself, but nobody really wants that, hahaha.

Okay – I think if I’ve read the book everyone else must be finished, too, because I’m the slowest reader in the world… so let’s begin the discussion! First of all, of course, I love, love, loved this book!

I liked the back and forth of the winter/summer and arrest/trial juxtaposition. For me, it kept the climax tantalizingly put off. For some, I know, that kind of writing is maddening. My husband doesn’t like it, because he gets confused as to what happened when, but I thought this was really quite clear and easy to follow. Bits of information were given out slowly, so we started to get a picture of what was happening and who was doing it.

In the last couple of chapters, I threw caution to the wind and read fast – I found it to be one of the most exciting climaxes – right up there with How the Light Gets In! So exciting, and so interesting how everyone maneuvered their loved ones around. Ruth surprised and didn’t surprise, if you know what I mean. I know that she really does kind of love Beauvoir, and she really watched what he did and tried to make some sense of it. When she came back into the Bistro and stuck by Lacoste, I was really moved. I loved that the paramedic thought she was Lacoste’s grandmother. Who else would do what she’d done?

As for who the culprit was, I was surprised – I’m trying to not give too much away in case anyone is still reading, so I won’t say just yet who I thought the culprit was.

These are my main overall thoughts about the book as a whole. What did you think?

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