Series Re-Read: The Brutal Telling


Discovering Louise Penny’s books has become an unofficial rite of passage for new Murder By The Book employees. I picked up Still Life shortly after starting at the store 4 years ago. I was immediately hooked. I wanted to devour the books, but I knew I didn’t want to rush them. I would make myself take a break after every two that I read.

Louise Penny is one of the first authors I remember being nervous to meet. We host 3 or 4 events a week, and I’d already met many authors, but this was different. I had bonded with her books and characters in a way that I hadn’t bonded with anything in a while. Louise didn’t want her event to just be an author talk, she wanted it to be a conversation. Since I had just read the whole series, I got to interview Louise about Bury Your Dead. It was the first time I’d done anything like that, and I knew it would be in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Louise immediately calmed my nerves. She walked into the store and wrapped her arms around me like we’d known each other for years. We had so much fun, and it’s become tradition that I interview Louise when she visits the store. It’s something I look forward to every year.

When I heard about the Gamache series reread, I knew I wanted to host the conversation about The Brutal Telling. It’s my favorite in the series. With The Brutal Telling, Louise put a lot of trust in her readers. She told the story she wanted, and asked the readers to go on a ride with her. I love when authors make risky decisions for the sake of the story. It shows that they have faith in their readers. It might not be the story readers expected, but it’s a story that’s worth telling.


Ch. 1-25: The Brutal Telling opens deep in the woods of Three Pines. A mysterious Hermit tells Olivier a story about Chaos destroying everything in the world except one small village. The Hermit tells Olivier, “Chaos is coming, old son.”

A ringing phone wakes Gabri and Olivier from their sleep on a Sunday morning. They rush to the bistro to find Myrna already there. On her way to the bookstore Myrna had noticed the bistro’s open doorand found a body, obviously the victim of foul play. Olivier recognizes the Hermit, lying dead on the floor, but when Gabri asks who it is Olivier lies. In Montreal, a similar call pulls Armand Gamache and Jean Guy Beauvoir away from their family time. Arriving in Three Pines, Gamache and his team find no murder weapon, and no means of identifying the dead man.

It’s clear that the blow to the stranger’s head killed him instantly, but it appears that the crime did not occur in the bistro. Gamache establishes a timeline. On Saturday nights, Olivier leaves the night staff to close up, and Old Mundin drops by with repaired furniture. Young Parra would have been the last person in the bistro, but it hardly matters since so many people have keys to the building.

As the investigation gets underway, Agent Lacoste interviews the Parra family in their modern home, and she learns that Roar might have seen a strange man in the woods near the Hadley house. Gamache speaks to the medical examiner and learns that the victim was in his 50s, and took good care of himself for a vagrant. A young man asks to join Gamache’s team, and against Beauvoir’s advice, Gamache welcomes Paul Morin to the team. Beauvoir and Gamache think the body was left in the bistro on purpose, so it would be found.

Clara hosts a dinner party for the Surete officers and her neighbors. This gives everyone a chance to view Clara’s new work for her upcoming art show, and reopens old wounds for Peter. The subject of the body in the bistro comes up again, and everyone wonders why someone would leave the body as a gift for Olivier. Gamache learns that the Hadley house has been purchased and will be turned into a spa. The spa has caused conflict between Olivier and the house’s new owner, Marc. A trip to meet the new owners uncovers a possible motive, as Gamache learns that Olivier had been overcharging them for antiques, causing them to take their business elsewhere.

The idea of reopening the bistro gives Olivier pause. He questions his place in Three Pines, and whether the community would still love him if they knew his secrets. Myrna tries to reassure him, but he decides he needs some time alone. Gamache and Beauvoir meet with the medical examiner and learn that the victim was killed elsewhere and moved to the bistro.

A search of the town doesn’t turn up any possibilities for the murder scene. At the Hadley house, Dominique has decided to bring in old horses destined for slaughter instead of the hunters she originally wanted. A conversation with Old Mundin (who is actually not old) uncovers that Olivier has also caused friction with the antiques community as more people besides Marc feel that he isn’t giving them fair deals for the pieces he purchases.

More digging into Olivier’s background turns up interesting facts. While he may pay less for his antiques, he’s known to give his clients other things (comfort, human contact,) and he owns most of the property in Three Pines.

A visit to the bank where he used to work reveals that Olivier resigned after borrowing money from clients and investing it. He was able to almost triple the money, but didn’t have authorization to do so. As a result, he resigned and his employers were never sure whether he had intended to steal the money he made. It’s still unclear where he got the money to purchase so much property in Three Pines. Olivier’s father is unable to shed any light on the subject because he barely knows his son at all. He doesn’t know that Olivier lives in Three Pines or that he’s gay.

Paul Morin learns that only two people have recently purchased Varathane, Gabri and Marc. A visit to the Hadley house reveals that their floors had been recently varathaned. Fiber from the victim’s sweater is also found stuck to the floor. But, the revelation that the body was originally found in the old Hadley house does nothing to advance the case. Marc admits to finding the body there and moving it to the bistro for revenge on Olivier, but it’s obvious from a lack of blood that the stranger’s body was not murdered in the Hadley house either.

While Marc is being questioned, a man is seen lurking around the Hadley house. The stranger turns out to be Marc’s father, a man Marc thought was dead, a who came to town right around the time of the murder. Dominique is the one who finds the cabin in the woods, and the blood pool that marks it as the scene of the crime. The cabin is filled with priceless antiques from a variety of times and places. No one understands how a treasure trove could have been hidden in the woods without anyone being aware of it. The location of the cabin makes the crime even more peculiar. If the murderer had left the body there, it is likely no one would have ever found it.

Among the treasures are beautifully carved figures. Everyone agrees that they are works of art, but they are also unsettling. One figure is covered in blood, and (we later learn) Olivier’s fingerprints. Each figure has a series of letters carved on its bottom. Even more curious is the first edition of Charlotte’s Web found in the cabin’s outhouse, and a spider web with the word Woo on it.

Clara is thrilled to meet with Denis Fortin about her upcoming art show. Denis seems to really understand what Clara is trying to say with her layout and vision. It all goes well until Fortin calls Gabri “a fucking queer.” Paralyzed by shock, Clara says nothing.

With the fingerprint results back in, Gamache confronts Olivier. This time Olivier doesn’t lie; he admits to knowing The Hermit. The Hermit was one of Olivier’s first customers and trades antiques for food. After a while, he had become nervous about being in town and Olivier had started to visit him in the woods. Olivier claims that he picked up the murder weapon, and dropped it when he discovered the blood on it. Gamache asks him, “Did you kill him?”

Ch. 26-end: Clara talks to Myrna about her incident with Fortin, and Myrna says she would have done nothing as well. Clara decides to talk with Gabri. Olivier says he didn’t kill the Hermit, but confesses that he found the Hermit dead in the cabin and moved the body to the Hadley house for Marc Gilbert to find. Gamache makes a trip to the cabin to look around before it’s cleaned out, and ponders who might have had motive to kill The Hermit. Vincent or Marc Gilbert, Roar or Havoc Parra. A casual look around the cabin reveals that several items all have one name in common, Charlotte.

Olivier attempts to talk to Gabri, but Gabri continues working on his preserves. Clara asks Peter what to do about Fortin, and Peter is slow to offer any advice. The next morning he tells Clara to speak to Fortin. Clara confronts Fortin, and just as Peter suspected he would, Fortin tells Clara he needs to reconsider her show.

Gamache gets help trying to decipher the codes on the bottom of The Hermit’s carvings and learns that several have been sold and are worth enough money to be a possible motive for murder. Once again, Olivier lied about what he did with the carvings The Hermit gave him. The word Woo and the prevalence of the name Charlotte lead Gamache to think of the Queen Charlotte Islands. Emily Carr spent time on the Queen Charlotte Islands painting and documenting totem polls, with carvings very similar to the carvings done by The Hermit. While speaking of Emily Carr, Clara mentions the concept of “the brutal telling.” Carr was estranged from her father, and later in life she said it was because her father had said something horrible and unforgivable to her. The brutal telling.

Garbi makes a trip up to the Hadley house to talk to the Gilberts. The visit doesn’t go well. Tensions are high as the group argues. Gabri explains how people come to Three Pines and find their niche, rather than moving in on someone else’s. He tries to apologize for Olivier’s actions. In an empty bistro, Gamache questions Olivier again about The Hermit and the carvings. Olivier admits to selling them online.

Gamache takes a trip to Queen Charlotte Island to see if that’s where The Hermit had come from. No one on the island knows him. Gamache strikes out, but a famous artist, Will Sommes, tells Gamache that the person who made the carvings was terrified. As he learns more about the island’s history, Gamache is certain that The Hermit spent time on the island, but no one can verify it for sure. It’s on the flight home that Gamache realizes how the carvings fit together.

Back in the Bistro, Gabri learns that Olivier has never told his father he is gay. When questioned about the order of the carvings, Olivier claims he doesn’t know the story they’re trying to tell. In a rare moment of frustration, Gamache pounds on the table and demands the truth. With more pushing, Olivier tells them that the Hermit’s name was Jakob, but Gamache doesn’t know much more about him. The Hermit came from Czechoslovakia just as the Berlin Wall fell, stored his treasures in Montreal, and moved them to the cabin once it was built. Olivier says that The Hermit was telling him the story of the carvings, but never finished the story, and Olivier has never seen the final carving.

As the officers meets at the B & B, they ponder the story the carvings are trying to tell, and The Hermit’s possible connections to the Czech community in Three Pines. Though they’ve asked many Czech families about the treasures found in the cabin, they’ve had no leads. Another trip to the Parras doesn’t turn up anything new. A search team tears apart the Bistro, and hidden in the fireplace is a sack and a Menorah, the murder weapon.

Olivier swears he didn’t kill Jakob. He spent time with Jakob, and had to go back when he realized he left the artifact he was given. When he returned, Jakob was dead. Olivier took the Menorah because it had his fingerprints all over it, and admitted that part of the reason he moved the body to the Hadley house was to stop the clearing of trails that would eventually lead to the cabin. Olivier took the Menorah and the sack with the last carving, and hid them in the fireplace of the bistro. Another revelation lets us know that Olivier was the one telling the story to Jakob. Olivier knew Jakob was afraid of something, so he made up a story to keep Jakob scared and isolated. Despite claiming that he didn’t kill Jakob, Olivier is arrested for the murder.

The key to the codes on the bottom of the carvings is the number 16. With the code, Gamache was able to learn that the words under them were Emily and Charlotte. Cracking the codes still doesn’t offer any insight into their meaning.

Vincent Gilbert decides to stay in Three Pines and live in Jakob’s cabin, Clara is contacted by Therese Brunel, and has hope that her art show might still happen. Gamache is confronted by Gabri again, trying to explain that Olivier couldn’t have murdered Jakob. As the book closes, we see Ruth’s duck Rosa take to the sky and fly away. Gabri is with Ruth to comfort her as they watch the duck go.


He watched Beauvoir sit up, “How was it?”

“No one died.”

“That’s a bit of an achievement in Three Pines.”

“Every surface of the kitchen was packed with colorful jars filled with jams and jellies, pickles and chutneys. And it looked as though Gabri would keep this up forever. Silently preserving everything he could.”


Bury Your Dead was the first book release I experienced at Murder By The Book, and every customer wanted to know if Louise was going to fix what she did in The Brutal Telling. I think that’s a beautiful testament to the world that she created. The citizens of Three Pines have become like family to us all, and with The Brutal Telling we learn some things about our family that we really didn’t want to know. There’s no way to fix it. A Rule Against Murder changed the series because we were taken out of Three Pines, but The Brutal Telling changes the series because it changes Three Pines.

We’re left in a place of transition. Olivier is in jail, Gabri is still convinced he didn’t do it, and even Ruth’s pet duck has left.

It seems dire, but I think Louise left us with some hope. I love the tender moment between Ruth and Gabri as Rosa takes flight. We see hope is Gamache’s patience with Gabri, and we’re left with some hope that Clara might still have her art show.

When I think of this book, the image in my head is always of Gabri and his preserves. Louise so perfectly captures that need to complete some task in order to have some control in the chaos. Part of the beauty of the series is the way Louise just nails those very human moments.


  1. Why do you think Gamache consistently recruits outcasts as members of his team? How is that mirrored by Dominique’s choice of horses.
  1. The Brutal Telling starts on the last weekend of the summer, how do you think the changing season mirrors the changes in Three Pines?
  1. What would you have done in Clara’s position? Would you have confronted Fortin or stayed silent?
  1. How would you describe Olivier’s friendship with The Hermit?
  1. How do you think the citizens of Three Pines are going to react when they learn that OIivier owns most of the town? Do you think they will still love him, as Myrna said?
  1. Do you think Olivier murdered The Hermit?
  1. Do you think Peter was purposely trying to sabotage Clara with his advice?
  1. We see Gamache get visibly angry with Olivier, and he’s usually so collected. How did it make you feel? Why do you think Gamache lost his cool?
  1. How have the events of The Brutal Telling changed your opinion of Olivier? Do you think he did it? 
  1. What do you think was Olivier’s brutal telling? Do you think any of his lies were unforgivable in the eyes of Three Pines? Was Peter’s advice to Clara about the art show a brutal telling?
  1. Gamache says that he doesn’t believe Olivier is a murderer, but that he does believe Olivier has killed. Do you agree with his distinction?

The Brutal Telling, Part 2

Clara talks to Myrna about her incident with Fortin, and Myrna says she would have done nothing as well. Clara decides to talk with Gabri. Olivier says he didn't kill the Hermit, but confesses that he found the Hermit dead in the cabin and moved the body to the Hadley house for Marc Gilbert to find. Gamache makes a trip to the cabin to look around before it's cleaned out, and ponders who might have had motive to kill The Hermit. Vincent or Marc Gilbert, Roar or Havoc Parra. A casual look around the cabin reveals that several items all have one name in common, Charlotte.


The Brutal Telling, Part 1

Discovering Louise Penny's books has become an unofficial rite of passage for new Murder By The Book employees. I picked up Still Life shortly after starting at the store 4 years ago. I was immediately hooked. I wanted to devour the books, but I knew I didn't want to rush them. I would make myself take a break after every two that I read.

Louise Penny is one of the first authors I remember being nervous to meet. We host 3 or 4 events a week, and I'd already met many authors, but this was different. I had bonded with her books and characters in a way that I hadn't bonded with anything in a while. Louise didn't want her event to just be an author talk, she wanted it to be a conversation. . . .


AuthorJOHN KWIATKOWSKI is the Publicity Manager at at Murder By the Book in Houston, TX.

265 replies on “Series Re-Read: The Brutal Telling”

I’m reading the comments and almost finished with book 5 , the brutal telling I’m curious about the bag that the hermit won’t show to Oliver, it has another carving in it, but I’m wondering what the carving was and why were the people who looked at the other two so astonished, what were they seeing? Does the third carving give the answer?

I’m not finished with book 5 yet and I’ve been reading the comments, I’m curious about the bag in the corner, I guess it was a carving, but why was the Hermit so secretive about it?

The richness of the interpersonal relationships, the delicacy of the food and the beauty of the environment are lost in the television adaptation. The books agave me the feeling of home and a community.

I am thoroughly enjoying the three pines series! I just completed book 5. I was surprised that Beauvoir didn’t simply Google a line of the Margaret Atwood poem rather than putting effort and time into piecing the notes

I am behind in these because I am reading all but Beautiful Mystery for the first time (I read that first and then am going back to read the others in order). I do not want to read as quickly as these re-reads are going because then the books will be all done and that makes me sad, so I am reading them at my own pace. I have to say, this book shocked and saddened me, which is a true tribute to how real these characters have become to me through Louise Penney’s books. I think anyone can murder, with provocation, even the saintly Clara or the wise Gamache, but I kept waiting for someone else to be revealed at the last minute. What a haunting portrait the author has created of someone so crippled by fear and need — The Hungry Ghost — that he was compelled to behave so horribly! And to have it be someone who has provided comfort and humor through all the books makes it even sadder. I know it’s fiction, but I find myself mourning just a little as though this all really happened to a friend. This is my favorite so far, only because it just will not let me go.

I’ve only read books 1-4 but I think the Hungry Ghost is Vincent. Vincent is the real killer of Jakob. He fabricated his death and lurked in the woods. Just my guess so far as I don’t want to believe Olivier could murder. He’s greedy, yes. Ok, on to book 5, Bury Your Dead!

I’m reading the comments and almost finished with book 5 , the brutal telling I’m curious about the bag that the hermit won’t show to Oliver, it has another carving in it, but I’m wondering what the carving was and why were the people who looked at the other two so astonished, what were they seeing? Does the third carving give the answer?

When I first read the dialogue between Annie and Jean Guy, I thought foreplay! It reminded me of how young boys torment girls they like.

Just looked at calendar. For our members north of the border and those of us south of it, Happy Canada Day on Tuesday and Independence Day on Friday next week. Hope all of us have safe, fun and family & friend- filled holidays!

JEAN-GUY: Some curious observations about our natty dresser and Gamache’s metaphoric son and second in command.

1. The last time we see JG in this book, he’s in his basement TV room – trying to put into sequence the little strips of paper that Ruth has given to him. He’s lied to Gamache about throwing them out, but has kept them “so he could fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle. . . .He had to find the meaning in the words.” After so much protestation and annoyance over the delivery of these, don’t you find it sweet that he’s secretly trying to figure out what Ruth’s trying to tell him?

2. This is also the first indication of the presence of his wife Enid. We learned in this book that she’s not keen on having children, she’s upstairs making him lunch, and that he’s been hiding out in the basement every chance that he gets – for weeks – to figure out the poem & possibly hiding from her(?).

3. He still has that stuffed lion that he stole from the B & B and kept hidden “in his room for company”, slept with there (as if it were his childhood teddy bear) – and still has it secretly in his basement hideaway! Just find it interesting that this dapper, thirty-year-old is so attached to and finds so much comfort in a stuffed animal/toy. :~} Big & bad JG really has a ‘Softy” side!

4. And then, it says. “He’d sat it in the chair where he could see it from his bed. And he imagined her there. Maddening, passionate, full of life. Filling the empty quiet corners of his life. With life. . . and brought it (lion) down here. Where Enid never came. The kind lion. With its soft skin and smile.” Well, it’s clear that the “her” isn’t Enid. Most likely isn’t Ruth whose poem slips he’s just solved. Of whom is he thinking/fantasizing?

Wish we could do italics here! Ruth’s poem for Jean-Guy:

I just sit where I’m put, composed
of stone and wishful thinking:
that the deity who kills for pleasure
will also heal,
that in the midst of your nightmare,
the final one, a kind lion
will come with bandages in her mouth
and the soft body of a woman
and lick you clean of fever,
and pick your soul up gently by the nape of the neck
an caress you into darkness and paradise.

What do you think Ruth’s trying to tell Jean- Guy? :~D

And it’s pretty clear in Chapter 14 when Jean-Guy tells Armand about his advising Annie about her work problems, that the lion is a symbol for Annie.
“There’s certainly good reason she’s known as ‘the lion’ in your family. Vicious.”
“She’s known as the lion because she’s loving and passionate.”
“And a man-eater?”
“All the qualities you hate in her you admire in men,” said Gamache. “She’s smart, she stands up for what she believes in. She speaks her mind and won’t back down to bullies. Why do you goad her? Every time you come for a meal and she’s there it ends in an argument. I for one am growing tired of it.”
“All right. I’ll try harder. But she’s very annoying.”
“So are you. You have a lot in common….”
As Gamache spoke to his daughter Beauvoir absently stroked the lion in his hand.

Patricia, Thank you for the reminder! I forgot all about this scene from first half of the book! You’re right. There are very specific references there! :~p Totally forgot about that! Thanks again!

About Ruth and Jean-Guy. Maybe I am the only one to interpret it like this, but it seemed to me that at first, leaving the notes for Jean-Guy was a bit of revenge on Ruth’s part, for his having made those remarks to her about her poetry. Of course, she didn’t know that he did so out of panic because he was afraid of what else she might have to say to him, and he had noted that she didn’t like being praised for her poetry. After the first few notes, though, I think the muse took her over and she actually was writing something, which, while incomprehensible to Jean-Guy(of course! Ha Ha.), they became more of a positive forecasting for him.

Jane, we must have been posting simultaneously! I agree with much of what you say about JG & Ruth – but what’s that phrase from Anne of Green Gables series? “kindred spirits”? I can be confusing that with something else, but I think our boy and our poet are two of a kind who instinctively recognize a ‘kindred spirit’ on some very basic level, but would be horrified to admit to that similarity. They’re both crusty characters, have little patience with flaws of others, don’t seem to have a filter before they speak etc. etc. etc. , but both have allowed us to see a peek at their own tender sides. Does this make sense?

#3 I actually came to respect him more. He did a lot of bad things, and even believed himself a bad person. But he never stopped telling the truth, and that’s not always easy to do. Even though you do lie here and there from nerves, in the end it all came out.

As for his doing it, I did think he did it at first… but then he explained about moving the hermit to the inn. Something about that just seemed ‘off’ to me. Why would anyone kill and frame someone else, when a dead body is as good as someone who can eye witness you? Petty yes, murderer no. At least to me.

Heidi, I agree with you about Olivier. I know something else happens with him in future books, but I really don’t remember what. This time, I just found too much unexplained about the Hermit and the crime – and Ollie’s continued protestations of innocence – when he did admit all else that he had done. Whacking the Hermit on the head just seemed to me – to be so out of character for our bistro owner.

I’m remembering in Still Life, when Gamache first met Ruth. She whacked the floor with her cane, spoke to Gamache with “sarcasm” and “disrespect” (his thoughts). He told her not to “ever swing that cane in my company again. And never speak to me like that again.”
Ruth answered, ” ‘I’m sorry. Forgive me.’ She sounded to Gamache like someone used to apologizing.” She went on, ” ‘ I suppose I could blame Jane’s death on my poor behavior, but 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.’ ”
In the Brutal Telling, p. 352, “All she could think was what she’d give in exchange for words. To say something. The right thing. To tell Olivier that she loved him… Instead, she poured herself more cooking sherry and glared… Now, with the sun set and Olivier gone, Ruth sat…Sufficiently drunk, she pulled the notebook close…, wrote
She rose up into…”
I may think Ruth did enough. I think she helped Olivier very much. But I don’t think she was happy with her response. My concern is about her feelings about herself. I don’t think she always feels she has said what she wanted to say, and regrets that, sometimes bitterly.

Don’t we all feel sadness at the inability to fully express ourselves at times? That’s really part of life. Even the dear Gamache felt a similar ache when he spoke with Gabri, “Words failed him. If there was any way to convince this tormented man, he would. He’d tried. He hated the thought that Gabri would carry this unnecessary burden ”

The real difference between Ruth and the rest of us is that she DOES find words that she shares with the world, with Jean Guy,
“and pick your soul up gently by the nape of the
And caress you into darkness and paradise.”

And, immediately after her conversation with Olivier,
“She rose up into the air
And the jilted earth let out a sigh.”

To remove any part of Ruth, whether pain, joy, or profanity, would be to remove part of the catalyst that makes her Ruth, the poet sage of Three Pines.

That may be, Linda – that to remove the “crust”, we’d lose the poet. It may be that Ruth turns to poetry as the only way she can express those deep feelings. We all know she feels things deeply, and loves deeply. She cherishes her friends – but in everyday situations, she has a very hard time showing it. I think she struggles with it – perhaps that’s why she must leave notes in Jean Guy’s (phew – got it right!) pockets, rather than just talking with him. Eventually, this will lead to some long talks between the two – but she can’t make the start in a normal way.

I do maintain that, in a book, we can see more into Ruth’s heart, and see the whole woman. And while, in a perfect world, we’d do what we could to see the whole person for others, I know that if I knew someone who’s first words to me were along the lines of fuck off, there wouldn’t be many further words. In a book, she’s delightful – in real life, not exactly.

I agree with you about how difficult it might be to get to know Ruth. What I disagree with (for example) is the idea that her choosing to leave Jean Guy notes is “not the normal way.” I may be incorrect, but must assume that “the normal way” and thus preferred for Ruth’s happiness, to avoid unhappy struggles, would be more like how you, or Myrna, or well obviously someone “normal” would do it.

Being different does not necessarily mean being abnormal. There are lots of different people. There are huggers and non-huggers. There are people that display emotions in public easily, and those that don’t. As a definite non-hugging person who has difficulty showing emotion in public, my biggest struggle has always been that so many think because I don’t react in public as they do, I am cold and uncaring or unhappy.

Ruth loves, feels, and often shows how much she cares. Does she sometimes feel lacking, yes. But Ruth doesn’t need anyone to feel sorry for her as she is both FINE and fine. As she told Gamache, she’s not likely to change.

Linda, I had to go back and re-read what I’d written, in case I said that Ruth was not “normal”. I’m the last person in the world who should be expecting people to be “normal”! I meant only that most people would just talk to Jean Guy, rather than leave notes, and especially notes that you know he’ll probably find cryptic. I agree – “normal” is actually a meaningless term, because we are all different, and we all need to be given the benefit of the doubt by people at least until we hurt someone. I believe this with all my heart. I was touched by the note giving (and the receiving, eventually) because I know that Ruth has a good heart and since she knows so much about pain, wants to help others through it. This is what I believe she does. And as we continue on, we see her being almost a savior of the young men in our stories… Jean Guy, Olivier and Gabri.

I do not find Ruth’s leaving notes for Jean-Guy, instead of speaking face-to-face these thoughts, to be out of the ordinary. After all, how many times have we been grateful that we cannot see the person we’re speaking to, when on the phone for a variety of reasons but also because it’s easier to deliver the words without that face-to-face contact. For Ruth, these notes are an insight into her inner self, someone who really does care. Yet for whatever reason, Ruth is afraid to let that softer inner self out…at least on a consistent basis and especially to a Francophone. Oh, the images we create for ourselves that can vary, based on the person with whom we’re dealing!


I’m surprised at some of the comments about Ruth in this discussion. I seeing people suggesting she’s softening, growing. Some suggest she’s bitter. Some think she needs to learn to filter.

Ruth says what she means and pretty much means what she says. As crusty as she seems, she is a source of strength and advice for many of the village. She loves deeply and Rosa is more of an example of Ruth’s already existing softness rather than recent growth. Rosa was saved, raised, and set free by a heart already mature as to the ways of the world. Ruth’s poetry reveals a person that has known hurt, but also hope and love.

I love Ruth the way she is. And, I love that with each additional book we see more of what Ruth really is.

How many times do we look at people we care about and say to ourselves, or to others, “Oh I love her, but I wish she was softer spoken.” Or, “He’s wonderful, but I wish he would change this awful habit.” Isn’t that a little like Peter? He loves Clara, if only she didn’t paint better than he.

Life would be so boring if we were all alike. What would we do if Ruth became more like Myrna, or if Gabri changed to suit Fortin. How about if WE change ourselves instead. Let US learn to view them with more discerning eyes and more understanding hearts.

I don’t think Ruth will ever be like anyone else and I would never wish for that. I would like for her to feel more able to say and do what she feels and wants to express in situations like the one in her home with Olivier. I don’t want her to be more like anyone else, but more like herself.

How can someone be more? I think she expressed all she needed to express. Often there simply are no words, just confessions expressed and confessions heard.

Linda – I completely agree with your assessment and reaction to Ruth. Thus, I’d simply like to say “ditto” to, even, your wording. I’m thrilled to see there is someone else who likes Ruth just as she is!

Gabri standing with his hand on Ruth’s shoulder was so touching. Even in his grief, he wanted to console Ruth.

It’s as though they are kindred spirits standing together there–both watching loved ones leave.

Peter, as several have noted is emotionally stunted — I don’t believe that he even understands his motivation. He claims to love Clara but he is constantly hurting her. He lack of support only makes their relationship harder and harder to accept and understand. He sabotages Clara at every turn and then acts the innocent. I can not trust him.
Gamache’s anger mirrored my feeling toward Olivier — he just kept lying and lying and digging himself deeper into a hole! In some ways, Gabri is like Clara — he cannot accept that the person he loves and cares for can possibly be a killer. In all of the previous books, Olivier shows his avarice — remember that every antique in the store and the bistro has a price tag — that was something I found to be very interesting and telling about Olivier. It only makes me very sad to see Olivier hurt Gabri, just like it is painful to see the way Peter hurts Clara.
Gamache used his anger to finally get through to Olivier. Olivier does not see that he is really a criminal. That he has never talked to his father about his sexuality is really not surprising, he is not able to deal with the truth about who or what he is.
the saddest part of the book for me was not Olivier going off with the Surete, it was when ruth’s duck fly off. It left a hole in not only Ruth’s heart but mine too.

But it’s a lovely, lovely gift that Ruth gives to Rosa. Ruth took off Rosa’s silly clothes and encouraged Rosa to go and be herself, every parent’s job. It shows such love and selflessness on Ruth’s part. I think that through her relationships with others she is becoming less and less egotistical, less and less FINE! And, yes, I could have cried!
I notice that Ruth wrote the “She rose up…” poem right after Olivier confessed everything to her and she felt unable to console him the way she wanted to.

You can murder a person in ways other than physically killing them. Even if Olivier didn’t actually wield the blow that took the Hermit’s life, he took the Hermit’s fears, compounded them and left the Hermit devoid of any peace or pleasure. We are so much more than blood and bone. There are many “brutal tellings” throughout this book. Another sad thing, especially in the cases of Olivier and Peter, and even Emily, is the deep ingrained impact that adults we depend on as children have on us as we move out of our childhood. Our characteristics can be molded and nurtured in many unfortunate ways — all those “brutal tellings” that come at us as children. The innate beauty of our beings at birth can be brutally crushed and distorted as we begin to live and grow. Olivier became a compulsive liar, Peter always feeling inadequate, Emily crushed by the person she loved most, and none able to grow beyond those learned and ingrained hurts. Of all the living species in this world, humans are the most imperfect.

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