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”

Millie – thank you for sharing your thoughts on the re-read with a Ruth filter. You have pointed out what I remember from Still Life and more. I know that I read Ruth and Clara with “Kim” filters. My pattern is to muddle along with a fairly even keel until there is too much stress in my life or something comes along that makes me question my talents, capabilities and values. At that point, it takes everything in me to sit on deep insecurities and fears around not being (good) enough and anger, resentment, envy and ugliness come out through the cracks.

Ruth seems to be the opposite. The bitterness is front and centre – covering up caring, sensitivity and compassion – until something comes along that causes fear or pain and then the goodness comes out. The alcohol is a wall to protect her so she doesn’t care too much because people she loved (parents? other family?) hurt her. How? Ridiculing her talents? Failing to protect her from predators? Or just complimenting others while seemingly failing to appreciate her?

I have wondered whether the old murder has anything to do with the lumberjack. And whether the resentment was based on Jane taking the lumberjack or (more likely) fear that the lumberjack would take Jane away. I can hardly wait until the 25th to see how the murder tells Ruth’s story.

Kim – what an interesting take on it. I haven’t really thought about the lumberjack in that way before – that he had a bigger role in Ruth’s development than it seems at first glance… and speaking of lumberjacks, I’m just now reading The Cruellest Month, which has lots to say about things that may be relevant in TNOTB. For one, Gilles, who used to be a lumberjack, but now is always in the woods, communing with the trees he used to murder… who will maybe be there in the woods when whatever is going to happen, happens? And what made him change overnight, so that he could suddenly hear the trees scream? I can relate to that so well, because when I first started to garden, I grew some plants from seeds, and there comes a time when you are supposed to thin out the seedlings. I felt like could hear them screaming when I pulled them out of the soil. I hated that, hahaha.

I have also just finished the dinner party scene where Gamache has asked Clara to invite Jeanne (the witch), and she has reminded everyone of Ruth’s poem about a witch, which, to paraphrase, says something like – they hanged me because I had blue eyes, owned my own farm, and had a sure-fire cure for warts. And breasts. Very powerful – and describing a real woman who was burned in Connecticut, I believe, though her name escapes me now. Anyway – in the discussion around it, she explains that people like Ruth, Myrna, Clara, are the crones of the village – the keepers of the wisdom.

Another theme is introduced – “The Book of Magical Places” – which we know is relevant to TLWH and The Garden Of Cosmic Speculation. This is a book that Gamache is reading as he tries to figure things out – a book he found in the old Hadley House.

Millie – your Ruth filter musings have been so helpful to me. I still struggle a bit with Ruth, because even though I know she has a loving and kind heart, I also know that I would have a hard time being around her. One of the things I think about Ruth is that she must have been an ultra-sensitive person who internalized every slight and magnified it to gargantuan proportions. I know a little something about that..

I have tried to write about the time of GSAW as I was 20 in 1960 but I don’t seem to be able to gather my thoughts or express them. GSAW was very disturbing to me. It brought to mind the struggle it was for all concerned. I have wondered what it would have been like to have lived in another country where the social problems were not so pervasive. My world was ripped apart with my Mother’s death 4 years previously( after a lengthy illness). Then anger, rage and hate seemed to flare across the land. Bold harsh headlines on every newspaper and the TV filled with the contorted faces of men and women of both races as they screamed their views and beliefs. Some how the Country I loved so very dearly survived only to be split by the Vietnam War and later by riots and still we struggle today. We can not alter history no matter how hard we wish. Neither our personal history nor the history of our Nation.

I think you just expressed your thoughts most eloquently Barbara. What a difficult time it must be for you to think about let alone write about. The turmoil of a young girl losing her mother against the turmoil of a nation….very poignant indeed.

I just finished reading Killing Kennedy about the assassination of JFK. Another interesting perspective of the events of the early 1960’s including a small sideline, the Civil Rights movement as it related to the Kennedy’s.

You can’t change the past, that is so true. But we can appreciate its impact on the present. We can do our best to understand it so we can make better progress.

Many thanks to you Julie for tracking down the historical existence of a certain Judge Owen J. Roberts who resigned from the Supreme Court in 1945. Certainly Harper Lee could not have known when she submitted her first manuscript, which was written in the shadows of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education declaring racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, that in 2015 our Supreme Court Justice would be the honorable John Roberts. What a strange coincidence that their names “collided” in GSAW. I sort of got stuck in a rut trying to figure that one out…..sometimes happens as one moves along with the challenges of aging. Whew! It was most enlightening for me to get an intimate glimpse of the struggles/tensions in Maycomb, Alabama at the same time that I was coming of age in a small town in the Pacific Northwest, never ever having even seen any person of color in my life up to that point. (Huge time-gap here; please forgive, or alternatively be grateful ha-ha) Ironically, the person who later in life impressed me as the embodiment of Atticus Finch of TKAM was an Afro-American professor I encountered when returning to our local university to complete my college degree in the late 1960s. It is thus personally painful and disheartening to see current regressive eruptions of violence and duress in America. I pray for all concerned.

I enjoyed reading GSAW. There was one spot where I thought it needed editing badly but I can’t remember exactly where. My copy is out making the round of friends. We do the “carport drop and pickup”. No one has to answer the door so it doesn’t matter if one is dressed or in a hurry.
I know eccentric older ladies.
I wish there was to be another book. One to tell about Jean Louise’s life in New York after her return. The next few years would have been very interesting.

Barbara, that’s a great idea. I wonder if all this furor might spark some “fan fiction” – a lot of the Jane Austen FF I read are sequels or prequels to original books.

Anna, what you said about Go Set A Watchman put into words just what I have been thinking.
I feel like anyone buying it had the opportunity to make an informed decision.
I have to admit to wondering if the two bookstores offering refunds might be looking at the potential publicity.

You have to think that the publicity would be very attractive to the bookstores, wouldn’t you? Anything to be “part of the party”. Because I really DO think that the BOOKSTORE people had to know what they were ordering, even if they felt that the general public was being duped. Of course, maybe they’ve received that many complaints? You never know.

Julie, the river behind the Bistro AND Clara’s house confuses me also. Perhaps that’s why there is a bridge next to Clara’s house which Gamache and company walk over to get to the fire station? I’ve tried to ‘see it’ in my mind but my sense of direction is not great to begin with.
I started the above about five hours ago and life’s daily stuff called me out of the Bistro before I even pressed post comment. I’ll post this try again tomorrow.

Barbara, thank you for caring but none of my or my hubby’s family in CA have been affected by the fires there. Nor have we even had rain in our part of FL the last three days. Counting my blessings.

Catheryn, and others, thank you for your kind words about the Ruth Filter. They aren’t so much thoughts as observations… I haven’t really digested it myself. Just have more questions.
Hugs to all.
OH, today I found I still have my adult coloring book (well, I bought it in my thirties and only did one page…) in one of the boxes! Yes, I still have more than I care to admit and madly trying to finish before Louise’s next book comes out. Talk about incentive!

Millie – so happy you have found your coloring book and your pencils – I have an order for some colored markers in my Amazon checkout basket, but they’re an “add-on”, so they’re waiting for a larger order to come to my house. I’ve seen so many printable pages online that I thought I’d just print some out and see if I like it. I know I’ll like having the markers one way or the other, haha. Yes, I’ve decided the Bella Bella must be a very twisty river, and it almost winds around the village green, so it COULD be in everyone’s back yard.

My husband has just been telling me about two major bookstores who have decided to give refunds to people for Go Set a Watchman. One of them wrote a scathing review as part of its explanation saying that the publication of this as a “new” book by Harper Lee is a very cynical money grab on behalf of the publishers. I can’t remember the names of the bookstores, but I wonder how much money they will lose by giving refunds… I’m not sure they can return books to the publisher after they’ve been sold, and they can’t now be sold as new, either…

I am very happy to have my copy. If Harper Lee did want it read then how awful to hear the harshness. It is an unedited first book of a new author. It should be seen in that historical context not with any great expectations. It is much better than some of the stuff I have read but I see it more as a literary source, like letters from an author might be, so maybe I am unusual in the value I derive from the work.

Just finished GSAW after having righteously cancelled my pre-order at the last minute and then re-ordering it a few weeks ago! I share your perspective, Anna, but I am wondering if you were taken aback at all by the passage in Chapter 17 that features Jean Louise in serious thought within her father’s study. “She looked at a faded picture of the Nine Old Men on the wall to the left of her. Is Roberts dead? she wondered. She could not remember.” Assuming she had been looking at an old photo of Supreme Court Justices I was jarred! Googling for past names of Supreme Court members, I could find no “Roberts” other than our present day Chief Justice. How could this ” be” in a book that is presented as a first draft submitted by Harper Lee in the 1950s? If anybody out there can help me figure out why I am experiencing such puzzlement about this curious time-warp, I would really appreciate a little feedback. (Incidentally, I read To Kill A Mockingbird well over 50+ years ago. One of my all-time favorites, so much so that in 2013 I named my new, very shy, blue British Longhair kitten BOO, because I found myself speaking him so often in the reassuring voice of Scout-to-Radley as featured in the movie version of TKAM.) Weird to have that tone come out of oneself spontaneously and ring absolutely true at this point in time.

Kind wishes and good thoughts to all….

Jan – so glad you have enjoyed reading GSAW – I agree – a thoughtful reading of it, knowing what it is, makes a lot of sense to me. I may weaken yet, hahaha. I wondered about your Supreme Court question and went looking. There was a Roberts, Owen Josephus who was a Justice until 1945, so she may have been thinking of him in the 50’s, wondering if he was still alive. According to what I found, he must have retired, rather than dying in office.

Anna – of course, it wasn’t fair for me to cite just one part of their review (and not to remember who said it at that) – another part of the review DID say that it should have been released as an academic exercise, making it clear that it’s an unedited first draft. Their objection was that, for many of the public, who have not spent months reading about its imminent release, it was advertised as “Harper Lee’s New Book” and a sequel to Mockingbird. That’s the part that they felt was so reprehensible. For you, and all of us – it’s something we knew was coming, we read about it and knew what it was. But for some, it’s just there on the shelves of their stores as a “new” book. Now, why THEY didn’t realize what it was, is a different thing. That seems silly to me.

I think anyone who feels mislead because they somehow missed the controversy in the lead up to the book release should be able to return the book regardless. You can even do that on Kindle so a store should stand by its products. Advertising that fact as though it is something unusual and specific to this book does seem to be cashing in on the publicity train.

Jan, sorry but the Roberts reference was lost on me. Knowledge of Supreme Court Justices isn’t one of my fortes. The events of GSAW occurred before my time so some of the nuances may have been lost. I love hearing what you all think that have a stronger connection to the events of the times.

I do think it is interesting watching Harper Lee incorporate what would have been contemporary and emotionally evocative events in GSAW. I can imagine she felt strongly about what was occurring. Maybe the book was her way of coming to terms with the emotions being generated. TKAM, by being set in an earlier time and through a child’s eyes, gave some distance to those emotions, maybe enabling Harper Lee to put the contemporaneous events into a different, more easily managed, perspective. It is a pity there isn’t a third book, one that could merge the viewpoints, that could perhaps inform a way forward. That would be useful today when emotions are again running high, when giving understanding and perspective to the past could help us, perhaps, appreciate where we are going.

Millie, I too am enjoying your thoughts about Ruth. What if Ruth was telling the truth when she said she told Jane’s parents about the planned elopement to save Jane from making a terrible mistake? Doesn’t Ruth consistently tell the truth?
I like the quote from Ruth that you included, “Let the past lie. It is gone and long buried.” That seems important given what we know about the new book and something buried.

I think Ruth probably, just like the rest of us, tells the truth as she sees it. She may very well have truly believed that she was saving Jane. Ruth was married, wasn’t she? I seem to remember this coming up before – Zardo is not her maiden name. Do we know what that relationship was like? If there were children? Could be there were, but they couldn’t handle a relationship with Ruth and are estranged. Or could she have been so in love with her husband, and then lost him somehow, leaving her heartbroken.

Loving the Ruth filter. Here’s a question…..Ruth is a very complex character. Does she always behave in a manner consistent with her character? Is she so complex any behaviour can be construed as consistent? Or do characters behave “out of character” at times because humans are prone to behaving in surprising uncharacteristic ways?

I remember how we mused over Clara and “uncharacteristic” behaviour in TLWH.

The Californian fires are still featuring on our news. Fingers crossed it is bushland not people and property at risk. Interestingly Barbara, in Australia at least, fire is a necessary part of bush regeneration. Many species rely on the heat of the fire to allow seeds to germinate. What can be destructive on one level can be life giving on another. The fire is the force that makes the cracks to let the light in.

The fires are heartbreaking, and some lives have been lost, I believe – at least one firefighter – and many put at risk. The biggest fire in California has now jumped two highways – the first time, while people were driving on it – it set at least two cars on fire, though I think people were hurt but not killed in that instance. I don’t know if they had time to shut the other highway down before it got close enough to jump it. It’s amazing to me that a fire can do that. Before this year, I didn’t realize fire could jump over something, or that it could become a “firenado” in a funnel-shape hundreds of meters high. It’s most dangerous for the firefighters – I can’t believe what they have to be able to do.

We had coverage of that on the news here too Julie. Very scary, as are firenados which we had in our last fire season. Thinking of everyone caught in the drama.

Ruth Filter 2 – Still Life continued:
In chapter 10, Gamache goes to Myrna to find out what Timmer Hadley had told Myrna about Ruth. Myrna narrates Timmer’s story of Ruth trying to convince Jane not to marry the lumberjack then, that having failed, telling Jane’s parents. Timmer says about Ruth,
“There’s something about her. Something bitter that resents happiness in others and needs to ruin it. That’s probably what makes her a great poet. She knows what it is to suffer. She gathers suffering to her, collects it and sometimes creates it…” Timmer does say that perhaps she was being too harsh.
I want to believe so, especially viewing Ruth’s character development throughout the series. Sigh. I’ve grown to really like Ruth! This is fertile ground to expand upon, though. Darn it.

Chapter 11, when Gamache visits Ruth right before the reading of Jane’s will is full of snippets of Ruth telling Gamache, when he asks probing questions about what Ruth did to Jane in her late teens. What else did Ruth do in the past?
“Let the past lie.”
“It was long ago, gone and buried.”

And our first introduction to the poem that I thought I knew so well.
Who hurt you once…
More on that later. And there are two more points in this same section, as well as a Bravo Ruth in the last chapter, that I hope to get to later today. Ruth is such a complex, multidimensional character.

Ruth Filter 1 – my bookmarks and questions from Still Life.
In the first chapter we are introduced, through Myrna’s eyes, a Ruth who gets down on her hands and knees to help scrub clean the Bistro. Only Myrna saw the pain in Ruth’s face as she got down, but she helped all morning… That is an act of incredible kindness.

Then in Chapter 3, when she goes to sit with Gamache at the Bistro we are introduced to an entirely different side of Ruth. She is sarcastic, rude and whacks her cane. In apology, after Gamache demands to be treated with respect she seems to ‘deflate’ and says,
“Forgive me. 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.”
Why? And how sad…

Then in Chapter 7, when Clara finds Gamache at the Blind, she starts to quote, and Gamache finishes one of Ruth’s poems which Clara thinks must be inside the person who has killed Jane.
“I’ll keep it all inside, festering, rotting. But I’m really a nice person. Kind. Loving. Get out of my way you mother fucker. Oops, sorry. That just slipped out. Escaped. I’ll try harder. Just watch. I will. You can’t make me say anything. I’ll just go further away where you will never find me. Or hurt me. Or make me speak.”
That is just heart breaking.

Moving on to Chapter 8 before dinner at Clara’s while she and Myrna are working out the details of selling back and buying books, Ruth walks in and says,
“I’d make a good detective. Unlike you Clara, I see people the way they really are. I see the darkness, the anger, the pettiness.”
Isn’t what we see in the world, in others, a reflection of what is inside us? Isn’t that why two people seeing the same event can come away having witnessed two entirely different things?

So interesting. I’ve long thought that Ruth acts one way but speaks another. All her acts seem to be acts of kindness (except, maybe, for drinking everyone else’s scotch), but her words are vitriol. Something that happens is that people love her for what she does, but they are wary of her because of what she says. I think you’re exactly right, Millie, what’s inside us colors how we perceive the world, and how we think everyone is thinking… So if you are a generous-hearted person, you think everyone thinks well of you, too. Ruth must have been hurt so badly, that she has to interact with the world this way. I think for a long time, I’ve made sure that if anyone was going to put me down, I’d be the first to do it, so it wouldn’t hurt so much when others did. (still a result of my parents, who were so like Peter’s) I work hard to see the world as a sunny place, and for the most part, I succeed. But my heart is absolutely on my sleeve, and right near the surface – easy to touch my heart – and easy to wound it.

Terrific article, Anna. Thanks for sharing. I had no idea that Carl Jung was extolling the benefits of coloring as creative relaxation. Isn’t it interesting how several generations can so easily dismiss something as too insignificant to even mention, then like magic, it appears as truly noteworthy?

Anna, I have a lot of family scattered all over CA. None have even mentioned the fires. So I’m hoping that means it’s a normal-for-CA fire…

Julie, I just scrolled up to the previous two pages. I completely missed your question of did anyone know where M. Beliveau lived. I believe it was mentioned in The Cruelest Month that he had a tree dying at his ‘home’ but he wouldn’t let Gilles try to save it… And didn’t Gamache go to his ‘home’ when his fingerprints were discovered on the police tape? Let’s revisit the entire question of where homes and shops are after TNOTB.

What I discovered with certainty today is that my copy of ‘A Rule Against Murder’ is not with its companion volumes. I remember referencing it during last year’s book discussion so it was ‘shelved’. Once… Nor is it in any of my ‘usual suspect’ places we hide things that are on my desk when our toddler granddaughters are coming. I did find my colored pencils and crayons. I chose to laugh at the synchronicity of it. Seems a lot of that is happening lately. Just not spending as much time at the computer as I used to when I couldn’t do much more. I’ll give ‘Ruth Filter 1’ a go tomorrow because I really want to do it.

Oh, I’m reading The Cruelest Month now – and have found lots of references as to where people’s homes are in relation to others, but I’ve not seen anything yet about M. Beliveau – I’m about halfway through, so I expect I’ll come to it. Thanks. I’m a little confused, as the Bella Bella runs behind both the Bistro (or was it the B & B – I’ve marked them all, so I can fairly quickly go through and find all the references to be sure) and Clara’s homes, as well as the Hadley Mansion… but I’m sure it’s a very curvy river, as Clara’s house is below the Hadley Mansion, which looks directly into the Bistro, as we learned from The Brutal Telling!

Maybe you decided to hide A Rule Against Murder so as not to have to see Peter’s family anymore! 😀

Thanks for the warning Barbara. In the old days at least the criminals had to pay postage when they scammed us by mail! Guess that is why it wasn’t as common. Good on you for letting everyone know.

Thought you might be interested in this article on adult colouring books. You can’t be alone if the books are in the best seller lists.


I hope anyone in California is safe. The ongoing coverage of the bushfires is scary.

Thanks for the link. I didn’t know the books were so popular in other countries. To think, an activity that had been thought of as only for children, is now seen as good for adults and relaxes them. Interesting.
The California wild fires are terrifying. I wonder how any forested areas remain when the fires occur every year.

SCAM ALERT. I received an email this AM supposedly from Amazon for an auto confirm of a kindle book I had ordered it said. When I clicked on the cancel prompt, a form requesting credit card and other info appeared. I called Amazon customer service at once. They had not sent it and I was told other calls had already been received about the same problem. I also left a message with AARP Fraud Network.
Since we are all readers, I wanted everyone to be aware. Tell your friends about this. I’ve made some calls to friends but must wait till later to call others.

Thank you, Barbara. I am amazed at the constantly inventive ways that people are working to cheat others. If that energy and ingenuity had been applied to a useful endeavor, I can’t help but wonder what they might achieve.

P.S. The link didn’t work from my own Facebook page on my device. It worked just fine from Louise’s.

Millie, I connected from Louise’s page too. Yes, the narration is as well done as I hoped it would be.
The word “global” was used in one review (don’t remember site). I wonder if we are going back to the garden from TLWH.

Barbara, that’s an interesting ‘speculation’. 😉 I hadn’t thought of that. I saw that review also and just took global to indicate universal theme. Something which could happen anywhere to anyone. But wouldn’t it be fun to hear from the Constable again. Such great humor.
This week I read an article posted by the NY Times and to my joy say an ‘ad’ for TNOTB at the bottom. The cover on the left and snippets of what I’m assuming were pre-reviews. One said something like, Where else would the devil go but to paradise? I wasn’t expecting that, to be sure. It keeps getting more interesting, doesn’t it?
Take care, Barbara. I’ll try to write more this week.

Oh, wouldn’t I love to go back to that garden… Louise has always said that there are little bits of info about upcoming books in the current ones, so she might very well have meant to come back to this special place… it’s so fun to speculate!

Hello all, I saw on Louise’s Facebook page an announcement that an audio preview of TNOTB was finally available. The link provided just kept popping up a message that I needed to download something called soundcloud. I searched around till I found a way to listen without another app… I hope this link works for those who haven’t heard it yet…
It’s the preview we were able to read, but Bathurst does a terrific narration! Enjoy.

Julie, your mentioning Paint by Numbers brought up a memory from long ago. In the first six years of our marriage, my husband was an Army Reservist, fulfilling his military obligation of that time. He had monthly weekend meetings and two weeks duty in the Summer. I would work on my Paint by Numbers sets when he was gone. I had forgotten about them. I framed them and give them to a local charity shop. They actually sold, although it may have been for the frame. LOL. A few dollars for the shop anyway.

I think some of the paint by numbers sets that I’ve seen (it’s been many years now), were really very good. They did actually manage to break images down to something that could be done that way and look great. The most successful, as I recall, were those with hard edges to everything – such as the Group of Seven paintings…

Paint by numbers: http://tinyurl.com/nexhnmu

Group of Seven: http://tinyurl.com/odqzgo8

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