Reading Group Guide

Now that we’ve made it Home, here are the official reading group questions for The Long Way Home. Discuss below, and when you’re done, enter for a chance to win a signed first edition copy of Still Life (contest now closed).

Reading Group Questions for THE LONG WAY HOME

  1. Clara first approaches Gamache with great ambivalence: wanting (though fearing) to know what happened to Peter, while reluctant to disturb Gamache’s newfound peace. How did you feel about the decisions they both make at this point?
  2. “I thought he’d come home,” Clara says of Peter. Did you? How did your view of him change in the course of the book?
  3. What does it mean to you to be a “brave man in a brave country”? How does courage—or cowardice—feature in this novel?
  4. On the first page of the book, we hear about Armand Gamache’s repeated gesture, “so tiny, so insignificant.” What is the true significance of this and other seemingly inconsequential actions in this story?
  5. What do you think of Ruth’s role in this story? For example, consider the scene in Massey’s studio, where she “seemed to have lost her mind. But found, Reine Marie thought, her heart.”
  6. Both Peter and Gamache’s father, in a sense, disappear. What is the impact of this kind of loss on Clara and Gamache? Have you ever experienced anything similar in your own life?
  7. There is so much about art and the creative process in this book. How do we see that unfold in the lives not only of Clara and Peter, but also of Norman and Massey? For example, what do you make of the Salon des Refusés? What do you think it meant to the artists themselves?
  8. What roles do creativity and acclaim (or obscurity) play in the lives of both Clara and Peter? In their marriage? Do you believe that Clara and Peter’s marriage could have been saved?
  9. Louise has sometimes talked about the importance of chiaroscuro—the play of light and shadow—in her work. What are the darkest and the lightest points in this novel? What are some humorous moments, and how did you respond to them?
  10. Peter’s paintings look completely different from different perspectives. How does that apply to other characters or events in the story?
  11. In Chapter Six, Myrna observes about jealousy: “It’s like drinking acid, and expecting the other person to die.” How does jealousy play out in the lives of various characters here? What effects have you seen it have in real life?
  12. How does Clara’s quote from one of her favorite movies, “Sometimes the magic works,” play out in the story?
  13. While a number of Louise’s books end in unexpected ways, the conclusion of this one is particularly shocking. How did you feel as you were reading it, and what do you think when you look back at it now?
  14. In some ways Clara’s quest to find Peter recalls such classic journeys as The Odyssey and The Heart of Darkness. What are the most significant discoveries the central figures in this novel make along the way?
Printable Version: The Long Way Home Reading Group Guide [PDF]

Paul Hochman

Discussion on “Reading Group Guide

  1. Lizzy says:

    Louise has sometimes talked about the importance of chiaroscuro—the play of light and shadow—in her work. What are the darkest and the lightest points in this novel? What are some humorous moments, and how did you respond to them?

    I feel everyone has made very insightful comments on this. What I think about is that quote or phrase about shadows. There are shadows in life, but if it weren’t for the sun, or light in this case there would be no shadows. You can’t have one without the other. Okay, now that song, Love and Marriage is stuck in my head.
    I worked 12 hours today, 12 tomorrow and 12 Sunday! I don’t know what a weekend is anymore!

  2. Lizzy says:

    What do you think of Ruth’s role in this story? For example, consider the scene in Massey’s studio, where she “seemed to have lost her mind. But found, Reine Marie thought, her heart.”

    I cracked up when Ruth was giggling. It seemed so out of character. She found her heart? I thought we found out at the end she was acting in that manner because, oh wait. I feel so confused. I wish there were pages referenced with the questions for a quick look up! Okay, Massy is the murderer. So Ruth somehow had picked up something evil in Massy and it made her react that way. Am I right? So as you can see I’m confused.

    • Millie says:

      A meditation guide once told the group, “Confusion is a very high state”. Gotta go Lizzy. <3

      • Millie says:

        Hi Lizzy, I feel I need to explain that cryptic comment about ‘confusion is a very high state’. I was learning a form of meditation in a very large group. For some people it was easier to quiet the mind than for others. Easier to explore other ‘states of consciousness’. That did not surprise the instructor. But then one particular ‘exercise’ stumped everyone and the instructor smiled and made that statement. He was very serious and went on to explain that a state of confusion meant one was stretching beyond the comfort of letting others make our decisions, lead us by the nose, as it where. We were thinking for ourselves AND letting go of the need to think. To be OK with just being in the moment – to just BE. Even if that left us a bit confused. I’m a LOT confused often enough that my husband reminds me, “Confusion is a very high state.” Makes me smile.

    • Cathryne Spencer says:

      Lizzy, I looked that up recently because I couldn’t remember just what made her afraid either. On page 372, Ruth says to Gamache, “I didn’t hate him.” And, “That blank canvas on his easel was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. An artist who’s lost his way. It builds up. Eats away at you. Beauvoir over there, …he’s a numbskull… You’re a fool…Those two (Olivier and Gabri)? Are just plain ridiculous.
      But you’re all something. Professor Massey was nothing. Empty. Like the canvas. I found that terrifying.”
      And so she behaved with nervousness and inappropriate giggling, unlike herself. Then, being Ruth, she refused to explain her behavior to R-M.

      • Anna says:

        Well done Cathryne!

        So awful to be empty and nothing.

      • Linda Maday says:

        I thought that it was interesting that Massey kept Norman’s painting displayed. An acknowledgment of its beauty, but also a constant reminder of his own failures and his own attempt to slowly murder Norman. I have no doubt that he knew his attempts had proven successful since he heard of or from Norman regularly.

        I also think the beautiful of Norman’s painting in contrast to Massey’s blank canvas must have contributed to Ruth’s terror.

        • Millie says:

          Ruth also asked Massey if the painting was found in the walls during the renovation. Might she have noticed the signature wasn’t Massey?

        • Cathryne Spencer says:

          Linda, I’m glad you mentioned Norman’s painting in Massey’s studio. I think he must have painted over the signature, but it must have killed him to see visitors so drawn to it, near the back of the studio. When Myrna walked to that painting, “Professor Massey followed her with his eyes.”
          Myrna thinks Massey’s paintings are “very good,” but this one “exceptional.” Reine-Marie thought the other paintings were “good,” that one “great,” “mesmerizing.” Ruth asked if it had been found in the wall, it just didn’t belong with the others. I’m guessing the painting was part of her discomfort with Massey and his studio, seemingly his HOME, by the way.
          ” ‘What did they find in the walls?’ asked Ruth. Her voice was almost unrecognzable to Reine-Marie……’Was it that picture?’ ” “Massey laughed and asked if she thought it was garbage. “He didn’t seem insulted, simply amused. Pleased even.” p. 93. So many clues, cues that I didn’t pick up, even rereading.
          It had to feed his fury, but he kept it. Because it fed his fury? Did Peter say Massey kept it beacause he couldn’t destroy such great art? I think so, at the end.

      • Cathryne Spencer says:

        Massey’s paintings compared to one of Norman’s reminded me of Jean-Guy’s feelings after admiring Gagnon’s through the gallery window.
        “Beauvoir got up and wandered around the Brasserie. There were paintings on the walls, with price tags slightly askew. From years of dusting. They were pretty landscapes, but in Charlevoix a painting needed to be more than that to sell.
        If he hadn’t looked into the windows of the Gallery Gagnon, Jean-Guy might have thought these were quite good. But he had looked. And now he knew the difference. Part of him regretted that. He might now like better things, but he also liked fewer.” p. 373. Like Massey, only the ones Massey doesn’t like so much now are his own.

        • Millie says:

          Cathryne, your and Linda’s posts kept running around my mind. I felt I was missing something important. Took me days and I still have only questions. Your reference to Jean Guy having seen great now liked fewer things. I think it doesn’t only refer to paintings but to the women in Jean Guy’s past. He used to date gorgeous bodies, even married one, but not women with much depth. Empty inside? I don’t think his regret is that now there are fewer, but perhaps that it took him so long to figure out what was really good – like Annie. At the bar he ruminates about when did he turn from a whip smart kid to an older man…

      • Lizzy says:

        That’s it Catherine ! Thanks!

  3. Linda Maday says:

    NO ONE EVER MENTIONED

    The beautiful poem that was once parsed out to Jean Guy by Ruth was quoted again in this book. But also in this book we learn it was written for/about Peter. She described Peter as “made of stone and wishful thinking”.

    The poem says that “The dirty that kills for pleasures” will also heal.

    Her view of Peter was so astute! Do you think Peter was healed at the end?

    And, in thinking of the fact that Ruth also gave the poem to Jean Guy, do he and Peter share some characteristics that might play a part in the future?

    • Linda Maday says:

      The auto correct changed diety to dirty. Huh?

    • Millie says:

      Missed noticing the poem reference to Jean Guy. Was it in this book or a previous? Don’t want to venture a guess without comparing the two.

      I did think the poem Ruth recites to the dog was perhaps indicative of the scraps Peter gave Clara…

      • Linda Maday says:

        In The Brutal Telling Ruth gives Jean Guy scraps of paper with lines from a poem that he finally pieces together somewhere around pages 360 – 361.

        In TLWH the same poem, though not in its entirety, is discussed on or around pages 236 – 239. In TLWH Gamache asks Ruth who she wrote the poem for. She says for Peter. Then they discuss the meaning of her poem and how it applied to Peter.

        • Millie says:

          OH! I remember now… Well, I remember Ruth giving Jean Guy the bits of poetry, but never did bookmark them. Then fast read the poem to get to the end… It was the hardest book in the series for me to read. Rereading that now. SO many things I had forgotten which apply to TLWH. Thank you.

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