INTRODUCTION BY ROBIN AGNEW
As a bookseller, I receive literally hundreds of advanced reading copies every year. I use the scientific method of reading “what calls to me”—so a vast majority of the “pile” goes unread. Several years ago of course I got an advanced reading copy of Still Life, which languished in the pile. The cover didn’t call to me. But then I got a letter from Julia Spencer-Fleming, who uses her powers for good: she sometimes sends around a letter to booksellers highlighting a book she feels passionately about, and Still Life was the topic of one of the first of these letters.
So, loving Julia’s books and trusting her taste, I dug out my (now somewhat battered) copy of Still Life and started reading. Dear Louise Penny fans, you know what happened next—I fell under the spell of Three Pines and Louise’s writing and was so excited to find a new writer I now felt passionately about, that I emailed Louise and asked to interview her via email. She of course agreed, and a correspondence and friendship began.
The Cruelest Month is one of my favorites in the series for many reasons. It felt like Louise’s assurance as writer was growing, and had coalesced in this wonderful novel. I saw Louise recently and I told her I was reviewing this one and she said, “Oh, I loved the concept of the near-enemy in that book.”
So do I. I also told her as I was re-reading it I had forgotten whodunit. She got a twinkle in her eye as she remembered who it was. As I got closer to the end I remembered too, but really great mystery writers have a dual skill: they tell a compelling and interesting story, and then they also tell a mystery with a puzzle and clues for you to solve. It makes the best of them, to me, magical.
Ch. 1-23: The book opens with an Easter Egg hunt, and the rebirth symbolized by Easter becomes a recurring theme throughout the novel, for good or ill. As the children hunt for wooden eggs on the village green, Clara Morrow and Ruth Zardow, the acerbic, cranky, nationally known poet who lives in Three Pines have a revealing exchange.
As Clara points out to Ruth the beauty of spring Ruth says “Nature’s in turmoil. Anything can happen.” At Clara’s protest she also points out “That’s the miracle of rebirth…But some things are better off buried…It’s not over yet. The bears will be back.” Ruth’s sadly practical voice of doom sets up what happens next though Clara’s optimism is also ultimately rewarded.
Meanwhile Gabri, at the local B & B, has decided to spice things up by booking in a psychic, Madame Blavatsky. Like many things to do with Gabri, the Madame Blavatsky part is a bit of an exaggeration; “Madame” turns out to be the more ordinary seeming Jeanne Chauvet, a mousy, non-threatening type. She holds a séance at the B & B on her arrival attended by Madeleine Favreau; a grocer, Msr. Beliveau; Odile, an herbalist; Gilles, a woodworker; and Gabri.
The séance is intruded on by a cursing Ruth Zardo, who has taken under her wing two baby ducks, to everyone’s surprise. Meanwhile, Peter Morrow has gone into Clara’s studio. Both Morrows are artists; Peter is the successful one but what he sees on Clara’s easel disturbs him because it is so good and he is consumed with jealousy.
When the first séance is concluded they agree that there should be another, in the Old Hadley House, a place of wickedness in the past two novels and almost a dead zone as far as the residents of Three Pines are concerned. For the next séance, the original group is joined by Hazel, housemate of Madeleine Favreau, and Hazel’s daughter Sophie. From the start this séance feels more serious; the house is dark; and everyone’s nerves are on edge. As Madame Chauvet calls the dead the lights go out, there’s a shriek and a thud, and a dead body falls to the floor, scared to death by the séance and the house.
Moving back to Montreal we encounter Chief Inspector Gamache and his family, including his son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter, who must shortly leave for Paris. Gamache’s wife Reine Marie reads of the death in Three Pines and of course it becomes Gamache’s assignment.
In Three Pines, Gamache and his second in command Beauvoir head to the Hadley house to check out the crime scene. The dead woman turns out to be Madeleine Favreau, scared to death, though her system shows high quantities of the diet drug ephedra. Gamache knows she has been murdered. As Gamache reconnects with the villagers who are now his friends, they recount the terrifying death scene. Gamache and Beauvoir then head off to interview Hazel Smyth, Madeleine’s housemate. Meanwhile it becomes clear that Lemieux is working for Inspector Brebeuf back in Montreal as Brebeuf looks for revenge on the outcome of the notorious Arnot case, which divided and shook up the entire Surete.
Hazel describes her life with Madeleine and how much they enjoyed each other. Then she asks if Madeleine was murdered by “the witch” Jeanne Chauvet? Gamache notes that she is full of rage. Meanwhile Beuvoir talks to Hazel’s daughter, Sophie, who appears jealous of the relationship between Hazel and Madeleine. He discovers ephedra in the bathroom.
Gamache and Beauvoir head back to Three Pines where the search for Jeanne Chauvet is ongoing. When Gamache phones home, Reine Marie mentions how Brebeuf has made her feel uneasy of late, and Gamache also speaks with his son Daniel before he heads off to Paris.
Negative stories about Gamache begin to appear in the Montreal press, the first questioning his lifestyle and the fact that he lives so well. His friends in Three Pines try and shield him from the stories. The ephedra rumor begins to make it through the citizens of Three Pines, and it’s clear the information was leaked by a mistake on Lemieux’s part.
Gamache and Beauvoir finally interview Mme. Chauvet. She freely admits to being a Wiccan and said she was drawn to Three Pines by a brochure. She says séances are a method of healing—people connect with the dead in order to move forward.
Beauvoir interviews Odile at her herbal and natural grocery store and he notices the beautiful chairs that Gilles makes. Odile tells Beauvoir that Gilles is in the woods talking to the trees, looking for those that want to be made into furniture. Beauvoir thinks everyone in Three Pines is nuts.
Lemieux interviews the grocer, Msr. Beliveau who reveals that he lost his beloved wife several years back and had been in love with Madeleine. He also recalls Gamache’s four rules of detection: “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need help. I was wrong.” Lemieux sees no value in these simple rules.
Meanwhile Beauvoir finds Gilles in the woods, where is talking to trees. He tells Beauvoir Madeleine was “full of love” and that she and Hazel seemed very happy living together. He insists that everyone had loved Madeleine, and Beauvoir points out that someone didn’t.
Jeanne Chauvet discovers from talking with Gamache that the Ruth Zardo of Three Pines is the well known poet. Jeanne loves Ruth’s poem about a woman accused of being a witch and says she’s well regarded in Wiccan circles. She also tells Gamache to be careful—”something’s coming.”
Ch. 24-44: In the second half of the book, things begin to amp up, and the damaging newspaper articles about Gamache begin to get worse. Beauvoir encounters Gamache and Chauvet sitting together, and is angry as he thinks she’s a charlatan. She says “I was born with a caul . . . and you were too.” The meaning of this becomes clear later.
Hazel plans Madeleine’s funeral and thinks “Everything had changed. Even her grammar. Suddenly she lived in the past tense. And the singular.” What a profound description of grief. Hazel is busy waiting on Sophie, who has injured her foot.
As the team reviews the latest evidence, it comes out that Madeleine was suffering from breast cancer and that’s the reason she left her husband and moved in with Hazel. It’s also clear there’s another newspaper article about Gamache but he refuses to discuss it or show that it might bother him.
Beauvoir and Nichol go to re-interview Hazel, who is apprehensive when she sees them and focused on Sophie. Gamache, Lacoste and Lemieux go back to the Old Hadley House. Gamache asks them what’s different about the house. Gamache goes off to explore on his own, leaving Lacoste and Lemiux alone. Lacoste can’t wait to escape and takes the first excuse to leave, while Lemieux takes a call from Brebeuf. As Gamache explores the basement he’s discovered by Lemieux, who is holding a gun, which Gamache thinks correctly is no accident.
Then Lacoste demands Beauvoir tell her about the Arnot case which is the ominous sword hanging over Gamache’s head. Beauvoir relates how Arnot and Gamache began their careers at the same time, both rising stars. Gamache took in the oddballs on his team, seeing something worthy in them, while Arnot took the best and the brightest, but was a bully and demanded conformity.
Things came to a head when violence on the native reserved were allowed to go unchecked as Arnot felt it was an internal issue, best handled by the natives. Then Arnot put agents in place to first stir up trouble, and then to kill, and some of the young native men began to disappear. The Surete closed ranks and there was no one for the natives to complain to.
One Cree woman whose son is missing goes to Montreal and sits outside what she thinks is the National Assembly, but it really a hotel. Gamache, with his noticing and listening skills, first notices her then listens and conducts his own investigation. What he finds rips apart the Surete and tests loyalties.
Meanwhile Gamache confronts Lemieux about drawing his gun and Lemieux pretends it was a mistake. Gamache tells him “It’s our secrets that make us sick”. This could really be the theme of the novel as a whole, as it’s the secrets kept hidden and left to fester that cause all the damage.
The latest newspaper article accuses Gamache of passing drugs to his son Daniel, who had a problem in the past. As these attacks hit his family, Gamache begins to plan how to take action.
As Gamache waits to talk with the medical examiner, he encounters Ruth, who displays her two ducklings—one strong and healthy and one weaker and more delicate. Ruth is equally proud and loving of both of them.
The doctor tells Gamache that Madeleine was in fact scared to death, as the ephedra alone would not have killed her, she also would have had to have had a heart condition, which she did. Now it’s up to Gamache to discover who knew about Madeleine’s heart condition. The doctor also tells Gamache that Madeleine’s cancer had returned and that she certainly was aware of it, as she tells him even if a doctor hadn’t told her, cancer patients are very much in touch with their bodies. Gamache also now wonders who would want to kill a dying woman.
Gamache retreats to the bookstore and Myrna, who talks with him about the concept of the “near enemy.” She tells him about emotions that look the same but are in fact opposites, one healthy, the other twisted. They couplings are attachment masquerading as love; pity as compassion; and indifference as equanimity. Myrna explains that it’s hard to tell one from the other, even for the person feeling it.
Back at the Bistro in a spring snowstorm, Gamache and Beauvoir look through Madeleine’s yearbook and find she was involved in everything—she was a cheerleader, starred in the school play, was involved in sports.
Jeanne Chauvet sits with them but apart reflecting on how Three Pines had been an unexpected safe haven for her until she saw Madeleine. She and Gamache do talk and she tells him about how she discovered she was a psychic, and it’s clear her gift has always made her feel like an outsider. Seeing Madeleine had made her so angry she couldn’t decline the second séance.
Beauvoir had called his mother to ask about what it meant to be born with a caul. His head was covered with a membrane when he was born, his mother tells him—a caul—which meant he was either blessed or cursed. His family had ignored him when he said anything odd. Beauvoir wonders if the reason he joined homicide wasn’t more intuitive than he’d previously thought.
At Peter and Clara’s house, Clara is struggling in her studio with her painting after Peter told her the color was slightly off. She’s anticipating a visit from an important Montreal gallery owner and is getting frantic, so Peter suggests a dinner party to take her mind off her work, but he’s really trying to sabotage her.
The next morning Gamache is awoken early by Gabri with the morning paper, which has a photo of Gamache’s married daughter Annie with her married boyfriend. Gamache talks to his wife, Annie, and then calls Brebeuf, who is Annie’s godfather. Of all of them Annie is the least concerned.
At the dinner party Clara is uncomfortable and worried. Talking to Gamache she thinks “She often felt foolish, ill constructed, next to others. Beside Gamache she only ever felt whole.” Gamache asks her what she thought of Madeleine. She says she liked her and mentioned it was lucky she took over leadership of the Anglican Church Women so Hazel wouldn’t have to do it.
She also tells him she was fond of Msr. Beliveau and thinks Odile is a terrible poet. She then worries to herself about her own work.
Lacoste interviews Madeleine’s ex-husband, who tells her living with Madeleine was like “living too close to the sun”, in other words, too close to constant perfection. Lacoste also goes by Madeleine’s high school and picks up her old year books and report cards. A photo Nichol found at Hazel’s house shows a much heavier Sophie eating cake.
Gamache and Beauvoir return to re-interview Hazel and Sophie, asking both if they knew Madeleine’s cancer had returned. Neither seemed to.
When the team meets up again to share what they found, Nichol’s rude outbursts are too much, and Gamache sends her far afield, to Sophie’s college, to ask questions there. The rest of the team is pretty certain Sophie is the killer.
Later, Gamache and Beauvoir hit the road and Gamache reveals more details about the Arnot case. When Gamache presented the evidence against Arnot to the Surete, they let Arnot leave to get his affairs in order. The rest of the Surete hoped he would kill himself but Gamache finds him and two other officers and prevents it. Because Arbot was very popular, some parts of the Surete and the public distrust and dislike Gamache for his part in bringing him to justice.
Finally at the side of the road Beauvoir angily demands that Gamche hold nothing back, and Gamache finally tells all, leaving the two men as bonded as father and son.
A new accusation in the paper points the finger at Gamache, saying he’s a drunk and again linking him with Arnot. Gamache takes himself off to talk to his family and make sure everything is fine with all of them.
At the Morrows’ dinner party, Clara closes the door to her studio to shut her guests out and seems distracted. The dinner guests discuss the cruelty of April—beautiful days and killing frosts or snowfalls that lay waste to the new flowers. There’s also a discussion of the solstice and how every culture has a spring ritual. They talk about how Hazel is willing to give help but unwilling to accept it, and had turned down the dinner invitation to nurse Sophie.
Ruth then relates the story of her two ducks hatching—Rosa, the stronger one, hatched out easily, but the more delicate Lilium had trouble breaking out of the shell and Ruth had helped her. Everyone silently suspects Lilium won’t make it but a feisty Ruth leaves early to tend to her babies.
At the B&B that night, Gamache, Beauvoir and Jeanne Chauvet all have trouble sleeping and meet in the middle of the night over tea. Also up late, Ruth realizes her kindness had killed little Lilium, and in her studio, Clara gets back to work with a clear mind.
The latest reports from the media show that Daniel has been arrested in Paris of suspected drug possession. Gamache leaves to go back to Montreal and set everything straight, possibly to resign.
Meanwhile, as the team plans to arrest Sophie, a broken Hazel appears protesting Sophie’s innocence. She’s given over to Clara’s care for the day. Nichol reports that Sophie is well liked at college and never injured when she’s away from home. Gamache also finds that Odile sells the herb ephedra is derived from, Ma Huang, at her store.
When Gamache arrives at the Surete and meets with all the department heads, including his enemy, Francoeur, he offers his resignation. Gamache returns to Three Pines to reveal the killer, assembling everyone who was at the séance back at the Old Hadley House. He first turns his attention to Sophie. He says she loved Madeleine and then talks about how the near enemy of love is attachment, which is what Sophie felt for Madeleine.
Then he turns to Jeanne Chauvet, who it appears, knew Madeleine in another lifetime and deliberately set out to scare her at the séance. But then Jeanne talks about how she’d realized Three Pines was a magical place full of good energy. But she also reveals she was at high school with Madeleine and Hazel and both hated and envied Madeliene and tried to make herself over for her, so become superficial and pretty.
Gamache then gets up abruptly and leaves to confront Brebeuf, who has come to Three Pines. Gamache had realized that Lemieux was working for Brebeuf and that Brebeuf, not Francour, was the enemy within the Surete as the friendship the two men shared from boyhood had for Brebeuf become a jealous competition. Breboeuf still can’t figure out why Gamache is happier than he is despite his success.
Then Lemieux draws a gun on Gamache and fires; Gamache is saved by Nivhol, who proves herself loyal to him. Gamache reveals that he put the hateable Nichol in place on his team as a distraction, so that he could observe Lemieux. Gabri, Myrna and Jeanne then turn up to rescue Gamache.
They all return to the séance room where the killer is revealed. Gamache recounts how Madeleine was the high school sun; she starred in the school play while Hazel produced it. They were both on the basketball team, but Madeleine was the captain. They were on the debating team, but Mad was the captain. Hazel’s high school motto was “she never got mad”, meaning literally that she never caught up to Madeleine.
Hazel’s near enemy turns out to be pity, which she has substituted as compassion. She makes a life for herself in Three Pines but Madeleine turns up, taking her daughter’s affection; taking over the Anglican Church Women group and finally capturing Msr, Beliveau. And Hazel had known that Mad’s heart was bad, though not how sick she was, when she gave her the ephedra herb. She is arrested.
Gamache misses his friend Brebeuf who has resigned in disgrace from the Surete. He has tea at Agent Nichol’s house in an effort to better understand her. The Gamaches return to Three Pines where a community spring cleaning of the Old Hadley house is going on. And finally Clara reveals her painting, which is so beautiful Peter only feels happy in front of it.
“Gamache loved to see inside the homes of people involved in a case. To look at the choices they made for their most intimate space. The colors, the decorations. The aromas. Were there books? What sort? How did it feel?”
“Our secrets make us sick because they separate us from other people. Keep us alone. Turn us into fearful, angry, bitter people. Turn us against others, and finally against ourselves. A murder almost always begins with a secret. Murder was a secret spread over time.”
One of the things I love most about this book is the unsettling concept of what jealousy can do to you and how destructive it can be. Louise takes it to an extreme to tell her story, but as always with her books, the ordinary becomes extraordinary and makes you think about your own behavior. But the “love” part comes when the wrap up to the story also includes redemption.
Re-birth, a theme carried through the book as much as jealousy is shown to be painful as much as it is necessary, another profound concept. While Louise uses the standard form of the mystery novel—red herrings, clues, even the inspector drawing together his suspects to reveal the killer, a la Poirot—she has such profound concepts she’s illustrating with her story, that again, the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
And what stays with you when you are finished? A glimpse of Three Pines through Louise’s words; characters we look forward to seeing in each novel; new characters to think about in this one (for me, especially Hazel and Jeanne); and the wrap up and explication of the Arnot case, hinted at and foreshadowed in the first two books.
- Do you believe a house can be haunted or malelovent? Penny certainly makes the case for the Hadley House being actually evil, and it’s mentioned as the place where all the sorrow from Three Pines goes.
- Gamache’s approach to detection is very intuitive. I love how he “feels” a place or situation and gets to the heart of it. What’s your favorite thing about his technique?
- Gamache is also intuitive about his friend Brebeuf who in fact is working against him, but Gamache isn’t sure. If you were Gamache, do you think you would know your friend had turned against you?
- I love Gabri, he’s one of my favorite characters. In chapter nineteen he’s reflecting on where he’s been clever or cutting instead of kind, and that would be a reason for someone to kill him. Then he thinks what he loves about Three Pines is it’s a place “where kindness trumped cleverness.” Who is your favorite character and why?
- One of the most interesting things about Louise Penny’s books to me are Gamache’s rules: “I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need help. I was wrong.” To me they seem like a useful life guide. Have any of you thought of these rules at challenging times in your own lives?
- What do you like or dislike about Ruth Zardo? I like that she’s such a cranky old lady but she writes such lovely poems, and in this one I love her attachment to the ducks. They become a symbol of the rebirth theme that runs through the book. Did you think the ducks were a corny touch, or did you like them?
- There are many sort of ordinary emotions that fester in this novel but jealousy is the main one and it’s the cause of every conflict in the story, basically. Do you think this is realistic?
- Did you cry when you read about Ruth’s Lilium?
- One of the things I love about Louise’s books is that she always ends on a positive note, even though the things she writes about are pretty dark and profound. She makes the joy profound as well. Do you like or dislike this aspect of her books?
- I was really captured by the portrait of Madeleine in this book and her effect most obviously on Hazel. Have you encountered this kind of perfection from someone in your own life? How did it affect you?
- Who was your favorite character in this book? I came to really like Jeanne Chauvet.
- Finally what are your thoughts on the percolating jealousy of Peter for Clara’s work?
299 replies on “Series Re-Read: The Cruelest Month”
Try El Greco’s painting of Mater Dol0rosa for pain and hope.
I love this series and the fact that much is always uncertain. I finished The Cruelest Month and read the Gamache had resigned and had to turn in his badge. I know that Brebuef had to leave in disgrace but I didn’t read that Gamache was still in the Surete. His last encounter there certainly didn’t go well.
Then I start The Killing Stone” and he is Cheif Inspector again. Did I miss something?
Sorry–I couldn’t resist!
This may have already been asked, but I’m slow at the re-reading and have not quite finished this one. Who wrote Odile’s poetry? Sarah Binks? 🙂
Just in case anyone comes back to these notes: I am late to the party, just finished rereading The Cruelest Month on June 2. The comments are so thoughtful, and I think we all are learning from Gamache. He is such a brilliantly conceived character. I was delighted by the references to and reminders of Sayers and Marsh, two of my all time favorite authors whom I love to reread.
Thank you all for the time spent posting these wonderful comments, poems, reminders, insights.
Our next discussion — A RULE AGAINST MURDER — is now live: http://gamacheseries.wpengine.com/a-rule-against-murder-part-1/
Regarding favourite character – I tend to look at this from a positive and negative side of things. Gamache is my favourite for all that he exemplifies in his kind, stalwart, ‘eternal belief in good’ approach to life. I would love d’avoir un café avec Gamache. Ruth is my favourite from the shockingly negative side, which I have to admit has grown to admiration. Initially I was terribly put off by Ruth. I used to see her as unnecessarily crass. Now, I see how deeply she cares. I tremble at the thought of having a coffee with Ruth, but might chance it. I fully agree with Carol M. above (May 26). Now I hope for cracks where we can see the real Ruth shine through.
I too love Ruth… and noticed that the children of Three Pines do too. In the Easter morning scene the children with the eggs they’ve found, run to Ruth. They know.
I agree about the bracing effects of coffee with Ruth… well we’d be drinking coffee, Ruth probably something stronger.
HADLEY HOUSE AGAIN. (Do I dare?)
Just a quick observation. At the end of this book the residents of Three Pines all gather together to clean, paint, and restore the old Hadley House.
as Gamache scrapes paint he believes he can hear the old house groan. He hears it not as a haunted scary groan but the same kind of pleasurable groan that his beloved dog Henri makes when he is having his ears rubbed. Gamache wonders if the noises from the house were always those of yearning for happiness to return to her.
This very small part of the ending made me think of how often I have heard people say, there are no innately bad dogs, just bad owners. Perhaps that’s doubly true of houses?!
I kind of agree, Linda – that as people gather together to put this “house in order”, they are also communally breaking the spell of the “haunted house”. Sprucing it up, bringing some love back to this home should have a beneficial effect on the whole town – instead of a malevolent presence up on the hill overlooking the town, maybe it can become a part of the village now…
I also love the idea of the Hadley house becoming redeemed and thus able to join the village as a “normal” house. Sure, some people will still have some bad memories connected to the house, but now that the house has been cleansed and cleaned, I think those feelings will rightfully attach more to the people who committed the crimes, not to the house where the criminals lived. The only quibble I have with this outlook, of course, is that, once the Hadley house is shorn of its duty to take on the bad feelings of the villagers, where WILL they go? Should Jeanne C. visit the village again, in say, several years, will she still say that it’s too happy a place to hold a seance?
Basically I am rereading to put all the clues together that I can about Jean-Guy. I particularly liked the part where Jeanne tells him he was born with a caul. It seems that Jean-Guy experiences a lot of cognitive dissonance in his life. Though initially resistant to new ideas, he generally will research, google, inquire to find out more. When he talks to his mother and learns that he was indeed born with a caul, she tells him that is why they ignored him when he said anything odd. That has to mess with your head when you are a kid. It is so great that Gamache is such a good listener. Just one more reason for Jean-Guy to appreciate working with him. I would really like to get to know the rest of Jean-Guy’s family.
I love Jean-Guy. For me he is the most complex and frail of all the characters. A good, if flawed, man. For me he is the most carefully crafted and the most human.
Jealousy is an enemy of happiness. We can be our own worst enemy. We need to learn to tell ourselves the good news and search within ourselves and our own experiences for approval and joy. I love Penny’s ability to capture the nuances of the human character and experience!
Yes, in fact Gamache notes that the REAL near enemy is ourselves.
We cannot wound another but what a piece of ourself is lost.
Does anyone else get hungry reading these books? I want a croissant and cafe au lait every morning! The dinners at the Morrows sound wonderful and the lunches that Olivier brings to the team are sumptuous. The food descriptions are simply wonderful.
Oh yes… to live in Three Pines and eat!
My favorite though is Gabri presenting Gamache and Beauvoir with the most drooling description of Eggs Benedict ever written. “Yummy, yummy. Mangez, Mangez”…
Gamache reached out his hand and took Gabri’s wrist lightly… “what is it? what’s happened?”
I love Gabri.
Yes, I think of Gabri as a loving teddy bear who hopes that food will fix everything. All the food sounds delicious…except the canned peas. Nothing will convince me that canned peas are good. But I like the joke of them bringing these to the potlucks. (Because they’re tired of cooking for the restaurant??)
I want Recipes!! Especially for the pea soup.
Is there a “Three Pines” cookbook in the works??!
It would be interesting to know if Louise first prepared the story of the Arnot case in its entirety, then carefully unwound the spool into each book.
I have the same question. Did Penny have the Arnot story outlined when she started the series. Was that to be the REASON( there must be a literary term for what I mean) for the novels and the characters were developed to work around the Arnot idea. I think a large part of the Arnot plot must have been in place from the begining . Gamache, his team and superiors, as well as his family all have their lives altered not only by Arnot but the way in which Gamache’s values forced him to bring Arnot and the others to justice. Success, whether in terms of money, power or prestige drives some people to commit unspeakable atrocities on their fellow man. It seems so easy for them to destroy those who can not defend themselves. These inhumane people have lived through all ages and in all realms. People, far more intelligent than I, have puzzled over this truism and also wondered how such can exist.
The first time I read these novels, I felt that the Arnot case as the background to the murders that occur in each novel. However, as I’m reading the second time, I’m feeling that the “big story” is the Arnot case and that each of these cases is incidental to the Arnot case being told. Totally different experience this time, since I now see the foreshadowing going on. (Trying not to give any spoilers!)
Arnot Case–In this, Louise Penny has taken on a most difficult challenge, which is to keep paying out a story line very slowly (and also somewhat repetitively) through a long series of novels. At times, I found this frustrating and almost annoying, as in ‘did we HAVE to go over this ground AGAIN?’ However in last year’s novel, she brought the story and its ongoing aim to a conclusion that was ‘big enough’ to justify all the slow unfolding that goes on. The results seem in the end to have justified the re-re-re-retelling. And traumatic things in our own lives are rather like that. We need to touch that base often and often in order to move on.
On my first reading through of the series I liked that the Arnot case was a continuous thread through each book. I did sometimes wonder why the facts were repeated so often. On this re read I have begun to notice that with each successive telling new details emerge.
It may seem at times that the telling is an attempt to explain the animosity so many prominent Suarete officers and leaders feel toward Gamache. I don’t think it will be a spoiler to warn new readers against believing that this is the only reason for their disdain. If you’ve paid attention you should have figured out that something BIG is coming.
The Arnot case isn’t finished just yet. Louise has dropped puzzle pieces all along the way.
Oh yes, I have no doubt there will be continuing fallout! But the big reveal in last year’s novel helped me to appreciate all that had gone before. I am re-reading all of it with interest now.
THE ARNOT CASE:
As we began re-reading this series, we’ve encountered our ‘hero’, Armand Gamache, solving a number of murders – primarily in Three Pines:
*— In “Still Life” – Ben Hadley’s murder of his mother, the murder of Jane Neal to cover up his first and his attempted murder of Clara Morrow when she figured out “whodunit”
*— In “Fatal Grace” – two murders again: CC’s strangulation of her mother and her own demise caused by her own abused daughter.
*— In “Cruelest Month” – we have the poisoning of Madeleine by Hazel who was jealous.
Each of these actions was of a personal nature – mostly familial or within very close ties to family. There seemed to be a personal historic motivation for eliminating each of these victims in the mind of these murderers.
BUT! — The absolute most egregiously evil actions seem to be skimmed over, quickly mentioned and then the story moves on to other things. That really, really bothered me. When I reread the part of the old Cree mother coming to Montreal for assistance in finding her son, I thought that she seemed a more fitting subject for Mak’s Madonna painting than Ruth.
What incredible courage – to come into a ‘foreign’ place where you don’t know either of the two languages spoken, to come alone and try to find someone in authority to help you, to have next to no money, to sleeping outdoors because you can’t afford a hotel. That Cree woman’s bravery just astonished and impressed me.
And then, we learn just exactly what Arnot, former head of drug enforcement and vice at the Surete, and his henchmen have done:
1. He tells his ‘officers’ to NOT investigate any crimes committed on Cree lands. Murders, robberies, rapes go unpunished.
2. He tells his henchmen to ‘let them kill themselves off’
3. He then directs them to kill any objectors.
4. The tribe’s chief is murdered, the women’s and tribal councils are disbanded as locals are absolutely intimidated/terrified by these supposed figures of authority and law.
5. He has loads of alcohol dropped in by plane
6. He has his officers systematically round up and kill indigenous people. Somewhere it said that they had killed so many that they couldn’t remember just how many or where their victims were buried.
This is ‘ethnic cleansing’ and absolute evil to the core. Shades of Hitler or Assad here?
It absolutely shocks me that the Surete, in this day and age, would permit such actions to a) not be prosecuted in court, b) that the stories would not make national or international news, c) that they ‘allowed’ Arnot & his chief cronies to go off in the woods to commit suicide instead of facing trial.
Armand was the only one who bore the moral imperative of trying to right this wrong. He tracked down evidence/ proof of what the Arnot goon squad had done. He brought it to the attention of his superiors. He was the one who went to that cabin in the woods to arrest Arnot & survivors when Gamache discovered that Arnot was going to kill his cohorts and disappear to start a new life elsewhere & unpunished.
Yes, Arnot is finally imprisoned – but his tentacles are long reaching – especially with his second in command flunky, Francoeur (sp?) still holding his own supervisory seat at the Surete. (A Meg side note: never had French, but don’t the roots of his name ironically mean “open- or honest heart”?)
And those tentacles are still reaching out for our hero – (another cliche!) – no good deed goes unpunished?! Arnot’s deeds were the most heinously ugly, cruel, evil of anything else that we’ve seen in the novels thus far. I find them much more unsettling than the 5 individual murders that Armand has solved so far. What do you think?
I agree that the most egregious crimes so far are those of the Arnot case that is really just a thread through these books. What is even more frightening is the fact that only a part of the case has been solved. Only a few of the tentacles were removed.
The real root of this evil has continued to grow. The shear number of people murdered and the number of perpetrators is astonishing. It’s even more astonishing to know that the worst of the wrong doers has never been discovered.
I think the Arnot case does so much for our true understanding of Gamache. Without that story about his treatment of the Cree woman (would we have come back to her with a sandwich and an interpreter? Or just passed her by? Sadly, I think I know what I would have done.), would we know just how deep Armand’s integrity and strength of character go. It’s one thing for people to tell us this and another for us to witness it ourselves in this story. All that flows from that meeting with the Cree woman lays out Gamache’s future. This was a huge turning point in his career. He had already stepped off the path a bit – by gathering all the “misfits” to his team, he’d alienated the upper levels to the extent that he had already known he’d risen as far in the department as he was going to go, and he was happy with that. Now, with this second step (that second step’s a doozy!), he’s set into motion events that will prove catastrophic for him and those he loves. The first evidence of this is the news stories about his children. Even though retractions may be printed, they never really take away the effect of bringing these accusations in the first place. All might not be lost, but it will be difficult to get back to normalcy.
How this case will continue to disrupt lives will be such an interesting area for us to explore as we go forward from here.
Meg, I agree that the facts of the Arnot case show the most heinous evil that lurks in the hearts of mankind. It IS shocking, and thank heavens that most of us cannot imagine such things until we are presented with them in such a format.
I recently discovered a TV series that deals with some of the same themes in native communities — Blackstone on http://www.aptn.ca. On a fictional reservation, the corruption, alcohol, racism, and tensions between local and federal government are explored. I’m only on season 1 and trying to catch up, but recommend it to anyone interested in another venue for this theme. (Yes, I realize it’s a fictional account, too!)
A MEG CHALLENGE : THE ARNOT CASE
Strings of this horror have affected -indirectly – events in first two books, and in this one we actually learn about the specific horrors that Armand discovered, his choices of action and the ongoing repercussions from them that continue throughout the series. Do we maybe want to talk about this? Have a full day of running errands – (which will give me mulling time as I drive around) – but I think we really need to examine this part of Gamache’s history as it affects not only his family (directly in this novel), but also his life-long friend Michel, and Jean-Guy & the rest of the Gamache team – and to a little bit – the villagers. What do you think?
We’ve been asked this question with each book and have reached the point where our answers are pretty well set as far as our Three Pines friends are concerned. Mine are, in order, Ruth, Gamache, and Beauvoir.
In answer to this question from this point I’m going to choose from those characters that are NEW to the storyline.
I did like Jeanne who recognized, was drawn to, and was changed by the peace of Three Pines.
But who could help but like the lumberjack that could no longer cut down trees.
Sandon could hear the trees, could listen to them. And he changed his life to protect and preserve them.
Here is another artist that made a living (with permission of the woods) by making beautiful furniture from fallen trees.
Yes, my favorite new friend.
A quickie! You made me smile. Our Gilles is a bit of a nutcase thinking trees talk to him, but I agree – absolutely love anyone who can create something beautiful out of wood! Plus, there must be something really good about the guy to elicit the love and devotion that Odile has for him. Know what my favorite step in any woodworking is? Putting on that coat of stuff (forget what it’s called) that draws out the grain in the wood before stain or clear sealant is applied to it. A little magic/miracle as the secrets of the grain are clearly exposed!
WOODWORKER & AUTHOR
My favorite part of woodworking is the unveiling of what lay hidden in the wood as the artist carves off the excess pieces. Every woodworker I know says the wood itself reveals what it will be.
I’ve heard some authors say something similar, i.e., the characters in their books determine where they go and what they do. I wonder if Louise Penny’s characters speak to her as well?
Linda, what I most like about Gilles is what he brings out in Beauvoir! As the book goes on, he begins to think he can hear the trees himself! I think it makes Jean Guy start to think more about the sensitive side of himself, and that there might be something to the caul… of course, it doesn’t take too long before he retreats to the familiar – but I know that if Jean Guy could embrace that sensitive side, he’d be so much happier!
I don’t think the novel provides us any ‘reason why’ Brebeuf is envious of his friend, but maybe the unspoken reason is that Gamache is another Madeline–as she is a shining woman, he is a charismatic man. Such people attract others who admire them, want to possess them, and envy them.
Agatha Christie has a couple of good mysteries in which the innocent victims are ‘shining girls’ — Nemesis is one of them, and the other is Sleeping Murder is the other (both are Miss Marple mysteries). The victims are completely without fault. Their misfortune is that their beauty and goodness attract obsessive people.
I can imagine that Gamache might be a man to attract great ‘hero worship’. Beauvoir, although he is a friend and an adopted son by the end of this novel, has a hard time with the depth of his attachment to Gamache. He is not a ‘fully integrated personality’ as yet, and both of them are going to have to pay for this down the road. Brebeuf? Who knows why he became more the near enemy than the old friend. If we react badly to goodness, alas, the fault is within us.
“If we react badly to goodness the fault is within us.” Yes, yes…and again YES. It is so sad to see jealousy of a friend’s success instead of sharing in their joy. I really have a hard time understanding jealousy. I have a friend whose (former) husband was a friend too. At least I thought he was but later found out that he was tremendously jealous of my friendship with his wife. I suppose it sounds weird but I grew up in a family that stressed the joy of celebrating each person and their individual accomplishments. It wasn’t a competition but a celebration of uniqueness. So the treatment of Gamache by Brebuef strikes me as overwhelmingly sad.
Nancy, you make a really good point here. I too come from a very large “tribe” & we are still very close and supportive of each other. We also don’t know just what Brebeuf comes from – just that he was there when Armand needed a support as a child. Know what popped into my head when I woke up this morning? Our Michel, who believes he’s smarter than Armand, must have been royally p.o.ed when Nichol boinged Lemieux with that stone at the end – when Brebeuf realized that Armand not only suspected, but knew what Michel was up to and made arrangements to put Yvette in place as a mole – even before this novel started! Maybe Brebeuf was just so self-centered that he couldn’t even imagine someone else one-upping him. Yeah, I’m probably imposing something that’s not there! :~} Just struck me this morning that M.B. must have really been steamed in that late scene in the Hadley house with the five of them when he realized he had been handed a “Gotcha!”
Excellent point there, Penny, that “If we react badly to goodness, alas, the fault is within us.”
Sadly, I think perhaps that fault has been the path to which Brebeuf has been committing himself for some time. He’s not happy that his childhood friend does not feel envious of HIM since he has, in his view, outshone Armand in both personal and work elements. I think the real turning point came for him at the dinner which he and his wife threw for Gamache and his wife where he expected Gamache to be filled with angst about his future, but instead he got a Gamache who was content. Apparently it has never occurred to Brebeuf that “doing the right thing” brings security, at least for Gamache. Brebeuf also considers himself as closer to the “higher-ups’ in the Surete for whom Gamache’s actions as a whistle-blower were regarded not as warning signals that something was “rotten in the state of Quebec”, but anger that one of their own had darer to point a finger at someone in the Surete who outranked him. Makes me think of Henry II who famously said, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” of Thomas Becket. I think that Brebeuf, rather than having loyalty for his friend, becomes more and more thuggish in his thinking, to the point where he thinks Gamache has to go.
RUTH’S GUILT ABOUT LILITH
I was touched and made a notation about the beautiful exchange between Ruth and Gamache about the burial of Lilith.
“Poor little one,” she said.
“Fortunate one to have known such love.”
“Love killed her,” said Ruth.
“Love sustained her,” said Gamache.
“Thank you,” said the old poet.
Ruth has seen a lot of life and felt so many of its sorrows. I think she, as most of us would do, gave pause to consider and mourn the death of a little precious loved one. Ruth, though, has faced death before. We know she is a widow who lost her husband years before. Thus we see, just a few pages later, it is Ruth continuing on that closes the book . . . she moves to join Odile to “give kindness another chance.”
RE: RUTH’S GUILT and RUTH & ODILE
Linda, Thank you for reminding us of this little but incredibly rich and generous exchange between these two.
Am finding a connection between this and Ruth’s reactions to Odile and her “poetry”. The first piece Odile recites is her “Spring is coming with its girth” and the Sarah Binks nonsense style writing including coinage of “snearth”. Ruth reacts by offering a rhyme for snearth – earth – mirth – and then telling Odile that she writes like the poet Sarah Binks. Not knowing who that is, Odile believes she’s received high praise. Ruth mutters to Clara, but says nothing else directly to Odile who doesn’t know she’s been insulted.
The last encounter with one of Odile’s poems is at the Hadley house painting party. Odile recites her “A cursed duck pecked off his ear”. I think Ruth reacts to this one more kindly because 1) there’s a clear story line to it; 2) a duck pecked off the guy’s ear (Ruth loves her ducks) 3) maybe Ruth realizes that that one-eared man is probably Gilles – who listens to trees & who hasn’t been able to ‘hear’ how much Odile loves him (and maybe readers – this one-eared guy is like Peter too!) – and 4) there’s a happy and loving ending. Think we all know that our Ruth is basically a softy at heart. Think she identifies with Odile as a woman who loves/has loved here and makes more of Odile’s little poem than the shopkeeper intended. Just have to love our Ruth even more!
Okay. I’ve been on a babbling roll tonight & am going to quit! Missed “Dancing with the Stars” last week, recorded it and want to see who won – plus the final dances!
A priceless exchange between Ruth and Gamache at Lilium’s burial. Regardless of this specific setting and reason for the words, I find the exchange applicable on many fronts. For two people who have, obviously, faced and seen much “damage” in the world, it’s always restorative to see compassion come through.
I. CLARA & PETER in re PAINTING
I’ve been stewing over this for a few days and realize that Penny colored my perception of Peter and his work in the first or second book. Wish I could do italics here to separate Penny’s words from mine! Please bear with this jumble!
PETER: Yes, he has gained some fame as a painter, but not particularly financial success. Think it was in “Fatal Grace” that we learned that he only made a couple of grand a year selling his work. He comes from an evidently wealthy and prominent Montreal family. Grew up with all kinds of advantages and a father who ‘encouraged’ him to be and do “his best.” Think the implication was that Peter was supposed to join the family business and be successful in that.
But, Peter CHOSE to opt out, to thumb his nose at his family, to rebel and go off like an immature teen and abandon all of that. He married Clara, who in no way, shape, form or mannerisms could/would fit into that world in which he was raised. She was his “thumb my nose” at his parents. She’s not expressed any expectations of him in terms of being the family provider. She’s happy with the crumbs he gives her. So she has a home, (actually two now with Jane’s), and money (inherited from Jane), a community that embraces her, a place to paint and someone to warm her bed. Clara doesn’t seem to have had any expectations of or made any demands of Peter – until she learned that his Christmas gift last year was not purchased (after she bought him an expensive watch) but that Peter picked up that Three Pines globe from the dump!
Peter’s art work frankly sound ugly to me. He locks himself into “his studio” and allows no visitors while he “creates”. His “creations” basically are composed of taking an ordinary object, zooming in on it for an extremely tight shot, and then meticulously painting a gazillion circles/pixels on a canvas – to the point where object is completely unrecognizable. Descriptions of his work remind me of things that a decorator would purchase for a cold office or institution – i.e. something to hang on the wall that would go with the ‘color’ (or rather lack of color) scheme. These pieces are cold, emotionless and reveal nothing about the subject or their creator – except those two things. I don’t have the sense that Peter even enjoys or finds satisfaction in his paintings. Have the feeling that gaining that rep of being a “nationally know” artist means more to him than actually creating something. Being ‘dubbed” with that title is ‘proof’ to his daddy that he’s done something. I don’t think Peter’s ‘work’ brings him any joy.
CLARA, on the other hand, paints from her soul. Yes, she went through a kick of rebellious vaginas (maybe an unconscious reaction to her husband? – Sorry, couldn’t pass that one up!) But, her talent has evidently been growing over the years. Remember the guy who was supposed to shoot pixs of C.C. in “Fatal Grace”? The photographer with whom CC was having an affair (forgot his name!)? He saw Clara’s portfolio that CC had promised to give to the gallery owner, Fortin. Photo guy was awe-struck by painting Clara had done of a tree in it. (Didn’t he rescue it from trash can?) That stranger knew nothing about Clara, but viscerally reacted to her artwork. (Yeah, and we still don’t know why Elle told Clara she loved her art!).
Then we ‘see’ Clara’s four portraits: individual ones of Emilie, Kaye and Mother Bea, and the group one of the three of them as “The Three Graces”. Our Mrs. Morrow captured the souls of each woman – according to the descriptions there. Clara instills her own heart, and observation skills and human reactions to her subjects in her works. She doesn’t just mindlessly paint little circles. She imbues her work with what she’s discovered about her subjects – something Peter is incapable of doing.
On p.p. 34-35 he snuck into Clara’s studio while she was at the seance – uninvited. His wife is thrilled that he wants to see her work when she returns home. Clara takes the sheet off of her latest work and “. . .there it was again. The most beautiful painting he’d ever seen. It was so beautiful it hurt. Yes. That was it. The pain he felt came from outside of himself. Not inside. No. ” Well, duh! Old Pete doesn’t believe in emotion or anything that requires self-reflection.
” ‘It’s astonishing, Clara.. . . .It’s the best thing you’ve done. I’m so proud of you.’. . . . She’d waited all her artistic life for Peter to understand, to ‘get’ one of her works. To see more than paint on a canvas. To actually feel it.”
Then, the jerk just dashes her joy, her confidence by telling Clara, “But are the colors quite right?. . . Well, I’m sure they are. You know what you’re doing.” – and doubt sets in. Clara begins to question her judgement and work. — and Peter knows exactly what he’s done too!
**** A Meg Aside: I’m not sure if this painting is the same one that Clara shows him at the end of the book – or if she started a brand new one – i.e. Ruth’s portrait. Do we have any evidence that they are the same or two different paintings?
pp.308-309 Clara unveils latest work to him.
“Peter’s eyes flew open. It took him a moment to absorb what he saw. It was a huge portrait, of Ruth. But a Ruth he’d never seen. Not really. But now, as he looked, he realized he had seen her, but only in passing at odd angles, in unsuspecting moments.
She was swathed in luminous blue, a hint of a red tunic underneath. Her skin, wrinkled and veined, was exposed down her old neck and to her protruding collar bones. She was old and tired and ugly. A weak hand clasped the blue shawl closed, as though afraid of exposing herself. And on her face was a look of such bitterness and anguish. Loneliness and loss. But there was something else. In her eyes, something about the eyes.
Peter wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to breathe again, or need to. The portrait seemed to do it for him. It had crawled inside his body and become him. The fear, the emptiness, the shame.
But in those eyes, there was something else.
This was Ruth as Mary, the mother of God. Mary as an old and forgotten woman. But there was something those old eyes were just beginning to see. Peter stood still and did as Clara had always advised and he’d always dismissed. He let the painting come to him.
And then he saw it.
Clara had captured the moment when the despair turned to hope. That instant, when the world changed forever. That’s what Ruth was seeing, Hope. The first, new-born, intimation of hope.”
They head off for the paint party at the Hadley house and “. . . . a tiny shard of jealousy. . . started festering.” in Peter.
The emotional power of Clara’s painting has penetrated Peter’s shield against emotions.
Don’t you think it was interesting that Clara knew how she wanted to change the Ruth painting after she watched Ruth leave the dinner party. Ruth was on her way home to check on the beloved Lillith. Notice the description of Peter’s thoughts that it was Ruth as he had seen her in passing at odd angles and unsuspecting moments.
We have a tendency to think of Ruth as wounded and hurt and we’ve dwelt on that version of her a lot. The people in Three Pines, though, are familiar with the hope in her eyes.
Peter and Clara… or opposites attract.
Peter is described as being “living in a deeply rational world where anything unexplainable was ‘nuts’. Also handsome, distinguished and from a fine old family (which probably didn’t hurt his sales either.)
And then and brilliantly through the novels, Clara. (Oh I so want to buy a Clara Morrow!!!)
But the clues are there for Peter’s selfishness… chapter 25, “no more interruptions. She never interuppted him when he was working, so why did he think it was OK to not only speak to her, but to expect her to leave her studio to look at… pieces of bread… a cardinal in their bird feeder.” The knife in the gut of questioning her colors is not a surprise.
But also in Still Life, Jane pictures him in Ben’s shadow… and there’s the nugget of Ben and Peter romping about the woods playing Robin Hood. NB they’re in their 40’s.
He never grew up…
Perhaps Peter appeared solid and grounded to Clara when she was younger. However, he has a fragile, brittle ego and rather than grounded, he is tethered, tied to a need for approval and success. Does his fear and egocentricity come through in his painting? He hones in to the smallest detail, almost obsessive, rather than delighting in the big picture. Perhaps he doesn’t feel part of the ‘wholeness’ (for want of a better word) of his marriage so he struggles to delight in what brings happiness to Clara. Her happiness and success are not part of his as it should be.
Jealousy springs from a desire to have what others have instead of delighting in their good fortune, an inability to be happy with what you already have and always coveting more. Peter covets Clara’s success and if he can’t have it he tries to diminish it, make it less so he isn’t missing as much.
Michel covets Gamache’s happiness. He and Peter both equate extrinsic markers of success with happiness and don’t understand how others can find joy and contentment at an intrinsic level.
Society and expectation drive the view that achievement equals happiness, the affluenza argument. The mindfulness movement tries to regain the concept of finding peace and joy in each moment, free from the hurts of the past and the fears of the future. I think Louise Penny is wonderful at portraying vivid moments, be it enjoying the buttery flakes of a croissant, the fresh crispness of the autumn air, the warmth of the fire or the passing of a friend.
Yes! (Oops! Accidentally hit ‘Post’ before I finished!) Connie & Anna. For some reason or other, I’ve had very little patience with our Pouty Peter since the first book. You two ladies also made another connection for me. In a number of ways, Peter and Michel Brebeuf do share some characteristics – self-absorption, dissatisfaction, inconsideration etc. etc. etc.
Re reading the comments I see a number of people have talked about jealousy. So many wonderful discussion points.
I see Peter and Michel as weak individuals, they lack inner strength and commitment. Strangely, I had the sudden thought that for all her flaws, Yvette is a stronger, more like able character with greater strength by comparison. Possibly because she isn’t pretending. Peter and Michel are projecting one polished self to the world while their core is mouldy. Yvette is what she is with all her struggles and thorns.
Louise Penny has the theme of not judging by external appearances in several books. Even the elder Cree woman is an example of this. She was ignored and thought confused or stupid because she looked odd and didn’t speak the language. Lemieux is the opposite. He is affable and good looking but harbouring hurtful intents, again hoping for promotion, elevation and success.
The characters I love and admire are not duplicitous. Clara, Gamache, Reine Marie are all what they are. Which is not to say they are simple or transparent but, perhaps, reliable.
I think (on re reading again) that it was the portrait of Ruth. In chapter 17 when Clara’s worrying over her picture (thanks to good ol’ Peter’s stab in the back), she’s trying to find the right colors… “deliberately stayed away from Marian Blue.”
A couple of paragraphs down, Peter is feeling horrible about what he’d said about Clara’s work… “since tried to tell her he’d over-reacted. There was nothing wrong with it. Just the opposite. But she’d thought he’d been condescending.”
Peter looks so good on the outside…
I have been reading A Rule Against Murder, and it is soooo hard not to comment on what we find out about Peter and his family, and how that effects his ability to express himself honestly.
Jane F: Oh yes! Reading Rule certainly puts Peter in his setting. Wow what a family!
Looking forward to comments to come.
Exactly! Now, THERE’S a family!
Madeleine really isn’t perfect, though. She doesn’t show the kindness and sensitivity that Jane Neal showed. Notice on page 41 when Odile said, “It’s taken a lot of courage for me to do this, ” Madeleine answers, “For God’s sake, Odile, don’t be rediculous, ” …clearly and not very kindly. It was a side to Madeleine that Clara had not seen before.” I think Mad went along blithely doing what she wanted, not looking around her to see how others might feel. In fact, I would say Ruth shows much more insight and caring about others, including Odile.
Yes, but Cathryne, I can see exactly why Mad could have been liable to be exasperated with Odile. Madeleine hardly even KNOWS who Gilles is, much less enamored of him, and here’s this woman she barely knows accusing her of trying to steal her man! I’d be a bit abrupt if I were in that situation, too. It might have been different had Hazel sat her down and told her how she, Hazel, felt about Mr. B. She did not even give Madeleine the chance to do the noble thing and give up a possible love interest so her friend could be happy.
I’m not clear (in this passage) just what Odile is talking about that requires courage. Is she dithering about attending the seance? Is Maddy just telling her to ‘buckle up” and don’t be silly? Is Odile referring to Gilles? I wasn’t sure when I initially read that either. Does one ambiguous statement make Maddy an unkind person totally? I don’t know. Just know that Penny gives us next to nothing specific from her – other than this one line. Madeleine still remains just a place holder for me – unlike Jane who had a rich life and was a part of the village her entire life. Maddy was a recent import along with Hazel. Honestly, I just don’t know.
My thought is that when Odile said it took a lot of courage for her to say what she did, she meant that it was hard for her to, essentially, beg Madeleine not to take her man. Makes me think a lot of the song, “Jolene,” by Dolly Parton–you know, the one with the chorus of ” Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Joleeeeen, I’m beggin’ of you, please don’t take my man.”
It’s hard for a woman who loves a man to see him being beguiled by another, and I think that’s exactly what was happening with Odile. On page 239, (paperback edition) after Gamache has been relentlessly questioning her about her conversation with Madeleine, Odile says this:
” I asked her to stop. All right? Satisfied? I begged her to stay away from Gilles. She could have any man. She was gorgeous and smart. Everyone wanted to be with her. Who wouldn’t? But me? I know what people think of me. I’m stupid and dull and can only do figures. I’ve loved Gilles all my life and he finally chose me. Me. And no one was going to take him away. I begged her to let me have him.”
Doesn’t your heart just weep a little for Odile here when she is forced to publicly admit to Gamache that she knows she isn’t in any way competition for Maddy? Initially found Odile annoying, but have warmed up to her as we’ve looked at her more closely. Thanks again, Jane!
And yet it was Maddy that stole the book and hid it from Ruth so that Odile wouldn’t be hurt.
Yes, but wasn’t that before the seance, and thus before Odile confronted her and begged her to leave Gilles alone? However, even if it was before the second seance, I think Mad’s taking the book so Odile wouldn’t get hurt shows that she, Mad, is not just about appearance. She’d suffered through her cancer treatments and break-up of her marriage, so she apparently did not want to see someone else be un-necessarily hurt.
MADELEINE: There was a question raised asking if we know or have had experience with someone ‘perfect’ like Madeleine. Strangely, for me, she was the least defined character in this story – other than serving the purpose of being the body in the bedroom. We hear about her from others – that she was well-liked in school, successful, bright, made others happy, beautiful. Those who seem to be uncomfortable about her are those who seem to feel that each is being slighted because he/she is not ‘the’ center of Madeleine’s life or attention:
–Hazel’s jealous because Sophie went to greet and kiss Mad at Christmastime when she came home – before her mother
–Odile’s jealous because Gilles seems to be enamored with Mad, but there’s nothing going on with them
–Hazel’s jealous because Mr. Beliveau spends time with Mad (when his wife suggested a matching between him and Hazel before Mrs. B died. No indication that he was informed of that !)
–Mad’s husband seems to sing a similar chant about Mad – but with no specifics about why their marriage ended. Didn’t that occur around the time when she was first diagnosed with cancer? People do out grow each other. We really don’t know why they split.
–Jeanne Chauvet recalls feeling inferior to Mad in high school because she (Jeanne) was unattractive and a bit overweight? (?)
All of these negatives about Madeleine come from others and their own insecurities. We hear nothing specifically from her mouth – or her thoughts in this novel. We really don’t know how she feels about anything. We also do not see her doing anything deliberately cruel or unkind to anyone else either. Remember she was the one who warned Sophie about taking the ephedra!
“Perfect People” ? I don’t even know if anyone like that exists. Do have a niece who is married now and in her 30’s. She was born laughing, cheerful and smiling. That’s just her nature. Everyone finds her a joy to be around. Maybe Maddy was someone like that – and folks were just envious of her. I don’t know. Just feel that Penny hasn’t really given us enough info to know just who and what Madeleine is/was. – Any takers?
Meg, I think Madeline was like Jane Neal in Still Life… a victim we (and the village) are meant to mourn. I agree she’s not presented as someone we got to know. Jane was more rounded and that’s why we wished we had known her. Madeline… well, I got over being jealous of cheer leaders a loooong time ago. But I still want to see Jane’s paintings.
Is this at all clear???
Yes, Connie! I want to see Jane’s paintings & comic animal/character sketches too! :~}
Meg R, it occurs to me that Madeleine fulfills the same kind of role that the Hadley house does. That is, most of what is learned about her comes from what other people say about her, and a lot of that is projection. That whole business about her being like the sun, and thus dangerous for anyone to get too close to, strikes me as being about as much baloney as all the fear that the villagers project onto the house on the hill.
Jane F – of the Great Insights! Thank you! I never made the connection between the parallels between how Madeleine is perceived and the Hadley house! Great Catch! I just love it when someone makes me see something in a new way!
Thanks for that insight!