How the Light Gets In, Part 1

Introduction

As we wrap up the discussion on the eve of publication of the tenth book, The Long Way Home, it’s obvious how much Louise Penny and her creations are admired. Robin Agnew, co-owner of Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore, and discussion leader here for The Cruelest Month, was recently quoted in the Ann Arbor Observer. “In my twenty-one years of selling books, I’ve never encountered the passion that people feel for Penny.”

In this forum, readers, librarians, editors, booksellers and publicists have discussed Louise Penny’s books. We’ve talked about Penny herself, how we met her, and how we’ve all grown to see her as a friend. We’ve discussed the settings, whether Three Pines, Montréal, Québec or a monastery. We’ve grown to love her characters; Armand Gamache, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Reine-Marie, Clara, Ruth, Myrna, Gabri, Olivier, even a duck. And perhaps we’ve all discovered it’s hard to separate Louise Penny, the author and friend, from Three Pines, a place of comfort, where Gamache and his friends return time and again. Do we share a passion for Louise Penny because of who she is, or because of who she is and the gift of the world she has given us?

In How the Light Gets In, Armand Gamache acknowledges that Three Pines is not Eden. “Three Pines, he knew, was not immune to dreadful loss. To sorrow and pain. What Three Pines had wasn’t immunity but a rare ability to heal. And that’s what they offered him.”

Before we can heal, we must suffer. Louise Penny’s first nine books are a finished circle in themselves. We’ve gone from an introduction to Three Pines and Gamache, meeting them both in Still Life. We’ve watched him struggle with past history in the Sûreté du Québec, watched the situation there grow worse, and, now, in How the Light Gets In, we see the culmination of the epic battle between forces, the battle between good and evil. And, of course, it culminates in Three Pines.

One of the underlying story cycles of this series is finished. Gamache and Three Pines will go on, both somewhat changed from their experiences. I see the series as a Venn diagram. There is overlap. Gamache, Three Pines, many of the characters. We still need to find out what happens to Peter and Clara. But the first nine books will always be “Before the events of How the Light Gets In,” while the next books will be, “After the events of How the Light Gets In.”

Thank you for reading with us, discussing Louise Penny’s amazing series. It’s been an honor and privilege to participate in these discussions.

Recap (Chapters 1-22)

The opening chapter introduces a woman who remains a mystery in the first half of the book. Audrey Villeneuve’s story will come to light in the second half. Here, we only see her as a terrified driver viewing the cracks in the Ville-Marie Tunnel. When Gamache questions later, he learns she was a possible suicide victim and a clerk in the roads division of the Ministry of Transport. Audrey Villeneuve’s storyline is kept for the second half of the book.

The second storyline is introduced in chapter two. Constance PIneault, a friend of Myrna’s, leaves the village of Three Pines, with promises to return for Christmas. She left with a statement about playing hockey as a child, seeing it as revealing a secret. Her failure to appear causes Myrna, owner of the bookstore, to contact Gamache.

In chapter three, we learn that Chief Inspector Armand Gamache’s homicide division is under the gun. Chief Inspector Francoeur has torn it apart. The old guard, beginning with Jean-Guy Beauvoir, once Gamache’s protégé, has been transferred out, leaving Isabelle Lacoste and a group of rabble who have been transferred in. The most successful homicide team in the nation has been gutted, and Jean-Guy is emotionally destroyed, addicted to pills. Instead of a crack team, Gamache has a squad whose members are surprised to learn that “he actually believed it. Believed the Sûreté du Québec was a great and effective police force. A breakwater between the citizens and those who would do them harm.” We see that only Lacoste remains loyal to Gamache, the only one within the division who still respects him.

The three storylines slowly come together as Gamache responds to Myrna’s request. He and Lacoste leave for Three Pines. Along the way, they observe a body, later learned to be Audrey Villeneuve’s, being retrieved from the waters of the St. Lawrence.

When Constance Pineault did not show up in Three Pines, Myrna was worried about the seventy-seven-year-old woman. It’s only then that she reveals Constance’s true identity. She was one of the famous Ouellet Quintuplets, once the most famous children in Canada, born to a simple farmer and his wife. When Gamache and Lacoste find Constance murdered in her home in Montréal, it leads to a fascinating story about the Quints. It also leads to a murder investigation, and Gamache agrees to handle it for his counterpart in the Montréal homicide division.

The timing for a murder investigation is perfect, as it provides an opportunity for Gamache to smuggle two friends into Three Pines. Thérèse Brunel, a Superintendent in the Sûreté, and her husband, Jérôme, a retired doctor turned cyber junkie, are helping Gamache dig for answers as to what’s truly going on in the police force. But Jérôme’s computer searches have caught unwanted attention, and it’s dangerous for everyone involved. Three Pines makes the perfect refuge. Or does it? They are safe, but also stuck.

A murder investigation involving a woman whose childhood was so celebrated that she doesn’t seem real. A build-up of tension as Gamache and his few allies dig for dangerous information. A seemingly unrelated death. A name from the past – Arnot. And, the first half of How the Light Gets In ends with Superintendent Francoeur and Inspector Tessier discussing the plot against Gamache, and their use of Jean-Guy Beauvoir. As they send him on raids, ply him with pills, play on his addiction, they see him as the unexploded bomb that could destroy Gamache.

Favorite Quote

I was so torn. Matthew 10:36 is a recurring quote and theme in the series. “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” It’s so important in this series, and this particular book.

But this time, I picked a more positive one. It’s Gamache, reflecting on the dog, Henri. “But he realized Henri already knew all he’d ever need. He knew he was loved. And he knew how to love.”

Discussion Questions

1. What did you know about the Dionne Quintuplets, the model for the Ouellets?

2. Henri, Ruth, and Rosa often serve to alleviate the tension in the book, adding a little humor. I like comments such as “Henri, while a handsome dog, would never get into Harvard.” Do you have a favorite humorous scene or moment in this first half of the book?

3. In describing Clara and housework, Penny says, “Clara Morrow was not someone who liked housework. What she liked was magic. Water into foam. Dirty dishes into clean. A blank canvas into a work of art. It wasn’t change she liked so much as metamorphosis.” How do you see this statement relate to Three Pines and the people who end up there?

4. What do you think Gamache meant when he said, “He wondered in a moment that startled him, whether that’s what this little village was. The end of the road? And like most ends, not an end at all.”

5. Over and over in the first half of the book, Penny emphasizes safety versus freedom, with Gamache and the Brunels in Three Pines, the Quints, the Crees. “They were safe, but also stuck, like the Quints. Made safe, given everything they wanted, except freedom.” How do you see safety versus freedom?

6. Let’s talk about celebrity. Myrna looks at the Quints and says she wouldn’t wish celebrity on anyone. How do people suffer because of their celebrity?

7. The shattered relationship between Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Annie Gamache is illustrated in the sad scene in which they sit in cars outside each other’s homes. In Jean-Guy’s case, “Now he was hungry. Starving. And he stank. The whole car reeked. He could feel his clammy undershirt sticking to him. Molding itself there, like a second skin.” At this point in the book, how do you feel about Jean-Guy Beauvoir?

8. Ruth’s poem, “Alas,” can refer to so many people, although we now know she wrote it about Virginia Ouellet. Who do you think of in the book when you read “Who hurt you once/so far beyond repair/that you would greet each overture/with curling lip?”

Lesa HolstineLesa Holstine has been a mystery reader since she was a child when she discovered The Happy Hollisters and Nancy Drew. And, she's been a fan of Louise Penny's work since she first read Still Life in 2006. Today, she continues to review mysteries and other books on her award-winning blog, Lesa's Book Critiques. She's the author of the chapter "Mystery Fiction" in Genreflecting: A Guide to Popular Reading Interests (7th ed.). She's been a librarian for over thirty years, and reviews books for journals, as well as her blog. Holstine also discusses books and authors on Twitter @LesaHolstine.

Discussion on “How the Light Gets In, Part 1

  1. Julie says:

    Ah – How the Light Gets In – so much has been leading up to this book. I didn’t know when I started it how much closure I’d get by the end (no worries – I won’t give any spoilers). I just knew that I’d been chomping on that bit. After A Beautiful Mystery, I had to wait a WHOLE YEAR!!!! for this one. I ate it in one gulp. So much so, that while the Ouellet Quints and their story is the only one I really took in. When we did the re-read, I remembered who the murderer was (for the first time in the series), and I remembered how far Jean-Guy had fallen. I remembered the feelings of dread I got as I read how decimated the Homicide Division had become. But the details of the “second story” were lost to me. I had to experience them all over again…. This is a hard book to read because of Jean-Guy’s journey. It’s too late for me to look at him with revulsion – I love him. I have that in common with the Gamaches, especially Armand and Annie. Too late to turn my back on him. So, I suffer WITH him. I look at Francoeur and his underlings with pure hatred. I scream at Jean-Guy to wake up. It’s excruciating.

  2. Julie says:

    1. What did you know about the Dionne Quintuplets, the model for the Ouellets?

    I loved this story because of the Ouellet Quints. I grew up in Canada, and even though the Dionne Quints were born before me, there were so many news stories shown of their childhood, that I felt that I knew them. They were born in a small town in Ontario, like the places I lived. They had a storybook house to live in, and everyone knew and loved them. I actually did believe all the newsreels I saw (which made up a lot of Canadian television in it’s early days). Later in life, I saw a documentary (probably the one they watched in Three Pines) which dispelled all those ideas. I realized what a horror their life really was. The picture Louise paints of the one little girl being pushed out the door in that documentary is heartbreaking. I can’t imagine being one of those poor little girls. I can’t imagine being one of their parents, and I can’t imagine being one of their siblings. When I was little, I saw the row of shining heads and pretty clothes and thought how lucky! Later, of course, the curtain is drawn aside and we can really see a little of their lives. How very unlucky! I think of these things when I see such things as “John and Kate plus Eight” or the “Octo-mom”. In these cases, I feel so very sorry for the children who did not opt for the notoriety that is befalling them because their parents have decided to take advantage… I don’t want to be too condemning of the parents – I’m sure the financial needs of so many children would drive one to desperate measures, but surely there would be something else…

  3. KB says:

    1. What did you know about the Dionne Quintuplets? I knew that they were Canadian girls – identical quintuplets, born in Ontario before the advent of in-vitro. I had seen some of the old, grainy newsreel footage and some of the photos. As I recall, the Dionne’s had a number of children before “the quints” and had more after them. I also recall that the government passed legislation making the girls wards of the state for some time and used them as a tourist attraction. Awful.

    • Ruth says:

      I knew only the still photos and the story my mother believed, which was that the parents were so poor the government had to take them to save them. I remember thinking it sounded terrible when I was a child and was truly saddened to find out that their lives were worse than I had imagined. Not growing up in a loving family is too awful to contemplate.

    • Sally says:

      I’ve always been fascinated by multiple births, so that led me to read a book about the Dionne Quints some 40 years ago, and I remembered many of the details as I read Louise’s book. The parallels were really striking, and sad to contemplate. One of the quints did die considerably sooner than the rest, as I recall during an epileptic seizure as she slept – or so it was recounted to the press.

  4. KB says:

    2. Moments of humour (note the Canadian spelling :) ), relieving tension. I have a husky/shepherd cross with satellite ears who lives for fun and exhibits glimpses of brilliance in an otherwise not so brilliant “person”ality, so I especially enjoy how Henri is used to inject small moments of humour. My favourite Henri moments surround his unrequited love for Rosa. I also enjoyed Ruth’s “coaching” of the hockey team and Gabri being pelted by snowballs and responding with the fist-shaking, eyebrow wagging and “Dagnabbit, you kids!” And so many more. Penny’s ability to build tension and release it before building it again is one of the many reasons why I reread her novels on a fairly regular basis.

    • Julie says:

      I agree, KB – I love Henri. In some ways, he’s a favorite character. His pure love, his puzzlement (still) when the snowballs disintegrate in his mouth, and his besotted doting on Rosa are such lovely and loving moments. We need them in this story, and I’m so happy to see him not only as big a part of Armand’s life in this book, but he actually drives the plot a bit when he makes a bee-line to Emilie Longpre’s front door.

    • Sylvia H. says:

      KB, Your comment about Louise building up tension and then releasing it reminded me that Gamache does exactly that with a suspect. Beauvoir learned to do it too.

  5. Julie says:

    3. In describing Clara and housework, Penny says, “Clara Morrow was not someone who liked housework. What she liked was magic. Water into foam. Dirty dishes into clean. A blank canvas into a work of art. It wasn’t change she liked so much as metamorphosis.” How do you see this statement relate to Three Pines and the people who end up there?

    I think that everyone in Three Pines is there to experience metamorphosis. So many seem to have reinvented themselves. Olivier’s story we know pretty well. Gabri’s is kind of “pasted on” to Olivier’s.

    We’re less sure of how Ruth came to be there, but I’m sure she was drawn to Three Pines so she could WRITE. Or maybe, it’s the writing which came once she arrived, and is what saved her. I’m not sure if she wrote before she came to Three Pines. Maybe she had to be “safe” first, and then the poems poured out of her.

    I’ve always thought that Peter and Clara needed to find someplace where they could afford to live and work only on their art, and Three Pines was it. I definitely relate to Clara’s dislike of housework, hahaha. I’m hoping we will soon learn more of their story (Peter and Clara’s) – it seems incomplete now.

    Myrna only knew that she needed to get away from her life as a psychologist. She got lost and stopped in Three Pines for a sandwich. She never left. She transformed herself into a bookstore owner (or, for Ruth, a librarian, haha).

    The first time Gamache arrived in Three Pines, he seemed to know it was the place for him. Early on, he began to fantasize about living there, and he brought Reine-Marie pretty early on to get to know it. I think he was working towards a time when he could live there from the first moment.

    Jean-Guy also feels very strongly about Three Pines, though for a long time, I think he couldn’t admit it. But Ruth’s help has made him feel at home there, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find him settling down there at some point. In many ways, Jean-Guy has gone through the biggest transformation – right now, he is in Hell. Hopefully, he will climb out and be stronger than before.

    • Michele says:

      I was struck by this paragraph this morning, and maybe I’m off-base about it, but change comes from hard work. Metamorphosis comes from, well, “POOF!” After rereading “A Trick of the Light”, I realized that I didn’t like some facets of Clara. It seemed to me that she loved the Peter who was bright and shiny, but when he showed his less-than-shiny parts, she fell out of love. We’re not talking the kind of angry where we yank our blankets off the bed and drag them out to the living room sofa for the night. We’re talking “that’s it, we’re through” without a whole lot of interest in trying to work it out. (I never got why Peter just gave up at her say-so. I’m dying for the next book!) And in this book, doesn’t she say something about Peter leaving HER? Am I wrong about that?

      • Julie says:

        Michele, I don’t remember her saying Peter left her, but that Peter left, meaning left town. He COULD have moved to another house, I guess, though that would have been weird. I’m sure he had to leave entirely because he couldn’t face the rest of the town without Clara as his champion.

        I’m happy to see someone think that their problems are not entirely of his making. I have never reviled Peter completely. I wished he was nicer to Clara, or at least self-aware enough to know that he shouldn’t get her a Christmas present at the dump. But, I always felt he was doing the best his damaged self could. I actually hope these two can work things out.

        I do wish they’d had a longer “fight” than the one night – where they talked and talked and realized, at the end of it, what they had to do. That would have set better with me, too. I am mindful, however, that Clara was clear that he should stay away only one year and then they would meet and talk. She felt the need for distance and some alone-ness to decide what she really wanted. Of course, it DOES rankle that she didn’t care what Peter felt the need for.

        I have known two different men in my life (one my father, one a husband) who just accepted what was “handed down” to them, and never questioned it. My father walked away from his first wife and his daughter without a backward glance. We didn’t know about this other family when we were growing up. I met my half-sister when I was 50 and she was 60! As I came to terms with this, I realized that my father just walked away and never tried to keep in touch with his daughter just because her mother said so. I can’t imagine that, and yet I know it happens.

        • Michele says:

          Maybe she did just say “left” … which still seems dishonest to me, as well as making her look more like the “done-to” than the “done did.”

          The story of your father walking away is very sad and not an unusual story. I wonder if it just does get “easier” to stay away.

          • Julie says:

            Michelle, I do think it was easier to stay away. For him. For a six-year-old girl, not so much. I know it still hurt her 50 years later. I’ve forgiven my father, as has Maureen. But I still sometimes wonder at his just going off and not looking back.

      • KB says:

        I took the Clara/Peter storyline a little differently. I agree that Clara’s decision was quick and that she didn’t take Peter’s needs into consideration. BUT, I believe the point was that Clara had accepted Peter’s treatment of her for too long. She had turned a blind eye to his subtle undermining of her talent. She had chosen to believe that he would be happy for her success just as she was happy for his successes. She had him up on a pedestal to some extent: he was one of “the” Morrows. He was handsome and projected an aura of success. What she saw was that her success decimated him. He couldn’t support her. She would have to choose whether to be less of herself (quit painting or quit the types of paintings that brought her success) or would have to make that part of herself separate from him by not allowing him in to her studio and cutting him off from her future shows, or by accepting his ongoing cuts – pointing out flaws in her work and holding negative reviews of her work to him like a talisman because he believed that her success made him “less than” her. While it might be the best that Peter could do, it isn’t enough for a good marriage. It was a betrayal that, to me, was at least on the level of infidelity because, for Clara, art is so much of who she is. And, whether Peter wanted it or not, it would be very hard to change while he stayed in the same situation. It would be too easy to fall back into old patterns. Clara could have been the one to go to let him figure out what his values and feelings were. But she was needed more than he was for story arcs because he just didn’t have the same kind of ties with the rest of the community that she had.

        • Karen I Ford says:

          I have been wondering why Clara stayed after her encounters with Peter’s family in an earlier book. The entire family seemed to treat Clara with more than a little distrust and dislike. But the family also did not really treat Peter with any love either.

          • Michele says:

            Do you remember when Peter left Clara standing on the dock, while he sailed away with his family? I wouldn’t have been waiting when he came back, myself; I would have packed my bags and gone home. They both have such incredibly low self-esteem!

          • Kathy Bradley says:

            Peter’s family was portrayed as so dysfunctional in A Rule Against Murder, especially his mother, I would not put anything past Peter. Clara has suffered their entire marriage and I just thought enough was enough for her.

        • Judith Williams says:

          KB, I agree with your comments on Peter and Clara.

        • Michele says:

          KB, your analysis is certainly a good one. I agree, their marriage was a disaster and they did need to separate, figure out how to make it work. I do still wonder why Peter left town; was the only reason he lived there, was because Clara said so? Was there ANYTHING he deeply cared about?

          I just don’t see Clara as the total victim in this, I guess. I don’t think she knew Peter, at all. She seemed more interested in what was outside, rather than what was inside.

          And when he showed her that, when he was FINALLY honest, she gave him the boot. Ouch.

          • Karen Gast says:

            I’m glad to read the comments on Clara and Peter because there have been times when I had no sympathy for either of them!

        • Sylvia H. says:

          Thank you! I think you summed it up well! Peter had been niggling at Clara for years, but because she loved him, she kept forgiving him. It worked okay as long as she was not successful, but when her vernissage showed how talented she was, and other people acknowledged it, Peter couldn’t handle it. Living in a family like his, it’s no wonder his self-esteem is so fragile! I think Clara kept denying that Peter didn’t love her because she loved him so much, but in the end, when all he can think of are the negative reviews, she finally faces the truth. I don’t think Peter could help treating her the way he did, given his own background in that wretched family, but he did some exceptionally mean things way back in his youth, like writing that nasty graffiti on the washroom cubicle wall about his sister. I lost all sympathy for Peter at that point, but I do think he wanted to do better but didn’t know how. Perhaps the year apart will help him to metamorphose!

        • Linda says:

          I agree. I was surprised Clara put up with Peter as long as she did. He’s a seriously wounded person and chooses to strike out in hateful ways instead of choosing to grow. Sorry, but I haven’t cared for Peter from the beginning of the series.

          • KB says:

            At the end of Still Life, Gamache said that he thought Peter could be a murderer because he was so closed in.

          • Ruth says:

            I have the same thoughts about Peter that you do. Why he and Clara have been together this long is something I had always wondered.

          • Linda B says:

            I never thought much of Peter from the beginning, either. He has always been consumed by jealousy; of his siblings as well as Clara. I hadn’t thought of the sociopathic angle, but he is definitely damaged, as we learned in The Murder Stone. I can’t see how a year away from Three Pines would get him any closer to getting a grip on his issues and treating them. He doesn’t strike me as the type to seek help. I just have a feeling this isn’t going to end well for Peter, and I only have 12 more days to wait and see!

    • Diana Schafer says:

      I wonder if Myrna was/is escaping from celebrity herself. I am most anxious to hear her story.

      • Michele says:

        Oh, interesting thought!

        • Irene Shuster says:

          Peter is still an angry child, jealous of his sister, his brother and Clara. Remember, he took his father’s cuff links from his brother and threw them in the lake!

          The saddest scene is his opening the bottle of champagne his father gave him to drink as he celebrated his first one-man show. It’s no good. Talk about sour grapes!!

      • Linda B says:

        Yes, we haven’t heard all of Myrna’s story yet. But the story I really want to hear is Ruth’s! There have been so many somewhat “out of charcter” little bits regarding Ruth, I am totally intrigued by her.

    • Judy S. says:

      DIdn’t we learn, at one point, that Ruth had grown up in Three Pines? She has that basement full of old (and valuable) pieces of furniture from her parents – I wonder if that means that they had lived there before her. Her metamorphosis seems to be a very slow process – more like evolution than any rapid change. Her ability to love is seen in her relationship with Rosa, but is at its deepest in her relationship with Jean-Guy. We have seen her send him poetry, listen to him, accept him. I find that so moving, and I love seeing how it deepens over the course of the books.

      • Julie says:

        Hmmmm – there was someone in Still Life who knew of Jane and Timmer’s relationship as teenagers – had been there to witness it – maybe it was Ruth? Somehow, I’d had in my mind that she moved there, but I didn’t know when or why. I need to go back and look again…

        • KB says:

          In Still Life, there was a reference to Ruth telling Jane’s parents about her lumberjack beau. There was also a reference to Jane painting Ruth as a young girl coming to school. I think Ruth was about 8? So, while Ruth may not have been born in Three Pines, she didn’t move their as an adult.

    • KE says:

      Julie,

      Ruth is a Three Pines native almost. Remember from Still Life that her family moved there when she was a little girl and Jane Neal befriended her? Which made it all the more sad when she told Jane’s parents about her plans to run away with the lumberjack and effectively ended Jane’s only romance.

      Clara SENT Peter away from Three Pines for a year at the end of A Trick of the Light. He did not want to go at all. In fact he was desperate to stay with Clara but it was her decision for them to take a year apart after everything that came to light in wake of the murder investigation following Clara’s vernissage.

      • Cathryne Spencer says:

        Yes, KE, since this discussion began, what keeps going through my mind is, “Jenny kissed me when we met.”

      • Julie says:

        That’s it! I knew there was something like that in the past, but couldn’t remember if it was Ruth or Timmer who’d done the “telling”… Now I remember. That, right there, is a beginning of what happened to Ruth, I think. She couldn’t bear to lose her friend, so did what she could to keep her, but in the end, realized it was the wrong thing, and she hurt Jane so much. I think living with that guilt (which she obviously still felt) might have been step one to her – ah – curmudgeonly ways (not wanting to say “bitter”, hahahaha).

  6. Julie says:

    4. What do you think Gamache meant when he said, “He wondered in a moment that startled him, whether that’s what this little village was. The end of the road? And like most ends, not an end at all.”

    Truthfully, I don’t remember this statement. But – for this story, it’s the end of the road because it will be where the face-off happens between him and Francoeur. It’s where he’s “circled his wagons” awaiting the attack. And where he attacks from – the technological inroads made into the secrets and plans of Francoeur and his associates.

    I think it will be the beginning of new stories – those that came “after the Arnot case”. I look forward to them, yet wonder what else could be so compelling? I’m anxious to see…

    • KB says:

      4. “The end of the road”. I DO remember this statement. I agree with Julie that it is very appropriate for this book – it IS the end of the road in the sense that the Arnot/Francoeur/Gamache/Beauvoir storyline will be wound up. I’m not sure whether this “wind-up” will be the end of the road for the corruption story. As far as the statement goes generally, it is very appropriate to how the characters described coming to Three Pines. They saw it as the end to their “running away from” the big city and the rat race. Instead, it turned out to be a new beginning – the start of their metamorphosis.

    • There is a place on Kauai that is called End of the Road. The road circles 3/4 of the island and one quarter is left with less civilization, less development, less manicure, and a whole lot more life. Going into that area required one to go on foot and experience the trip on a more micro level, getting up close and personal (though to be totally honest, some people take a helicopter in). When I read Gamache’s statement, I thought of Kauai. It’s a place where mystery begins and where the human heart is revealed.

  7. KB says:

    3. It wasn’t change that Clara liked so much as metamorphosis….how does this relate to Three Pines and the people who end up there? Wow. That quotation perfectly explains how I feel about cleaning. I hate tidying and dusting, and would much prefer to clean a bathroom or a kitchen….so much more magic in the transformation. As for the metamorphosis aspect of Three Pines, it would seem to me that everyone who came there (not those born in the Village), wanted an opportunity to re-invent themselves, or, more accurately, to develop an aspect of themselves that had been previously neglected. Clara and Peter wanted an opportunity to do art to support themselves, rather than having to work a day job. Myrna wanted to get away from a psychology practice that she no longer found fulfilling in favour of a place where she could develop deep friendships and work with books. Olivier got away from his talent with investments/math and got to work with deal-making in antiques and collectibles. Beauvoir started to look more at people and relationships (i.e. Ruth) rather than focusing on just the facts. Dominique Gilbert also got to work with horses, making her daydreams come true. Three Pines seems to be the “safe place” for working (at least a little) in a way that is more congruent with peoples’ values instead of having to bow to the economics of supporting themselves in a more expensive town or city. It is clear that people are still struggling, but they do not appear to be so impoverished that they need to find extra work or to go on social assistance.

    • Julie says:

      I forgot about Dominique – and really, Old Mundin got to re-invent himself and work as a carpenter with his happy little family til he threw it all away.

  8. KB says:

    5. Safety vs. freedom. There is a tension between safety and freedom. If safety becomes paramount, you do lose freedom. By being kept absolutely safe (or always taking the safest route), freedom is taken away. If safety is paramount, you will not choose to make a job change to a more exciting and interesting field from a safe, secure, dull and boring job. Choosing security over all else can constrain freedom in that way.

    In the same way, the quints were kept “safe” from poverty by the state. But to get this safety, they and their parents had to give up the freedom to raise them like all other children/families of the depression. All normal choices were taken away.

    Some people seem to find freedom when there is no safety. When they are jailed and mistreated, they hold on to their freedom of thought and will. But these are special people.

    I think that balance between a need for safety and freedom is optimal. When there is enough security to make a leap, you can take that chance because you know that there is at least partial protection from failure.

    • Julie says:

      I’ve needed a few days to chew on this one. Safety vs Freedom – it’s something we all have been talking about since 911. Many people believe that our freedoms as a society are being taken away systematically since then. The spy drones. Thousands of people a day removing their shoes for inspection in airports. Are we like sheep, meekly submitting to these losses of freedom (some profound, some, like the shoes, just silly and annoying) so we can keep believing ourselves safe? I don’t know. One of the huge differences between the US and Canada is the “don’t tread on me” mentality of personal freedoms in the US. The belief that Government should be much more limited than it is in Canada. These are fundamental and profound differences, and to a certain extent, are what make Americans American. I’m not talking about the far right – I’m talking about more basic tenets of freedom that were firmly in place before 911 and have gotten blurred since that awful day. They say you should never talk religion or politics in a group like this, but I’m kind of proud that we, here, have been able to do it without rancor.

    • Judy S. says:

      Safety vs. freedom: so very timely in this era of terrorism and potential invasion of privacy. Interestingly, I think that visitors to Three Pines first see only the safety, but as readers we have seen that people who live there are still challenged and challenge themselves. I think it has the balance that KB refers to. As Gamache says, the villagers are not protected from tragedy, but they seem to have an ability to heal from it, with the support of the community.

    • Jane F. says:

      KB, I read your comments on safety vs. freedom with much interest. It’s a integral question that many people don’t think about until a situation arises where they have to choose.
      I’ve been reading a book about Elizabeth Woodville, who was married to Edward IV(later the mother of the “two princes” who disappeared into the Tower of London.) After her husband was killed, she and some of her children went into sanctuary. The description of what that was like made it clear that although they were physically safe, the experience for them was like being trapped. They had no freedom of movement, and depended on news from relatives who had to sneak in to visit them. NOT an optimal experience at all!
      I think there are clearly parallels with what the Dionne parents and their children experienced. It seems to me that the parents, not having much money and most likely being overwhelmed with having five children born at one time, thought that the government’s offer to help with the children would provide the best option for their children. It did provide a measure of safety as far as food and clothing went, but they paid a terrible price for abdicating control of their children. For people who seek the limelight, and WANT to be famous, that governmental offer would have seemed a godsend. For ordinary people though, especially children, who are ill-equipped to deal with excess fame and fortune, it can be quite a curse, as we have seen with child-stars and children of the extremely wealthy. For undereducated, simple people like the Dionnes, I would imagine that as the years went on, the bargain that had been made with the government seemed more and more onerous.

      • Julie says:

        Yes – I have always (since I knew how the Dionnes were REALLY treated) felt terribly sorry for the parents. They thought they were getting a hand up from the government, but they were really being pushed out the door, away from their children. There was no “family life” for any of them after that first fateful day, when the Dr. called the press in. I just can’t imagine how sad it was for them, visiting their children in that “zoo” like all the rest of Canada… I know they signed the papers, but they had no way of knowing what they were really signing, and I’m sure even the lawyers and others instrumental in having them sign didn’t really understand what they were doing to those poor children.

  9. Barbara H. Johnson says:

    # 1 What did you know about the Dionne Quintuplets the model for the Ouellets? I knew they were the famous Canadian Quints born I the late 1930’s , a few years before me. I remember seeing their pictures on calendars and in magazines when I was growing up. They always had beautiful clothes and as a child I thought it must be wonderful to be famous and to have more than one sister. I started wearing glasses when I was 8 years old. The day I got them I went into my bedroom and on the door was a calendar with a picture of the Dionne Quints. I had not seen well enough to know what the picture was.
    Many years later, it was sad to learn that they had not had a “fairytale” childhood as I thought.

  10. KB says:

    6. Celebrity. I wouldn’t wish fame on any child, ever. Children usually haven’t developed their personality and values well enough to be able to understand their intrinsic worth. Because of this, they are more likely to grow up believing that they are special because of whatever made them famous and end up devastated by the loss of fame or by the loss of that quality. This is exacerbated by greedy parent managers, “friends” who are more “hangers – on”, and relentless interest by paparazzi and social media so that it becomes difficult to escape and to have some degree of normalcy in their lives. Without that, there is little chance that parents or guardians will be able to help them to develop a sense of what is truly important in life. So, they are encouraged to rely on the approval of others, and when the fickle public turns its attention to someone else, they are dropped. With no centre, they may try to regain the approval they lost and, if they can’t, they are so susceptible to alcohol and drugs.

    As far as adults go, there are advantages to fame. There appear to be adult actors, musicians, athletes, etc. who are not always in public view. They have been able to keep their private life out of reach of the public and choose what to share and what they want to guard to themselves. They can make the choice of where to live, how much to work, how much PR to do, etc. Of course, this may have an impact on their degree of fame and their income, because it may decrease public interest.

    For those who choose to do all they can to obtain and maintain celebrity status, I think life would be hell. They put themselves out for public scrutiny. As much as they are celebrities, they are also held up to an impossible standard. It is so common for social media and tabloids to cut down celebrities to show that “they are no different – or worse – than ‘normal’ people”. Every extra pound is noted. OMG, is that what they look like without makeup? Hoo-boy, did you see the cellulite? Her child had a melt-down in public. She got mad with the paparazzi….etc. and “this is what she sounds like without autotune”. Behind computers and cell phones, people feel free to bully.

    For myself, I don’t know that I would want people that interested in my life. I wonder whether I would be the same person if I had people investigating my failings and putting them out there for everyone to see.

    • Julie says:

      Ain’t that the truth, KB? I think of so many celebrities who are prisoners behind the gates of their property. And of others, whose children are paraded before the public like dolls, all dressed up for Mommy and Me, or a Walk in the Park, or whatever. That kind of celebrity seems horrible. I have great respect for those who have become famous for their acting, or some other talent, but about whose private life we know nothing. They’ve had to work at that, and I hope that their children are able to grow up with some semblance of normalcy.

      When I was a little girl, “Father Knows Best” was a favorite show, and I especially related to Kathy, or “Kitten”, because she was around my age. In later life, she accused her parents of basically “pimping her out” to the highest bidder, and I’ve never forgotten that. I can’t imagine any amount of money would compensate for the loss of a childhood. And when parents, or even children, say that “he or she wanted it”, I just have to assume that they must also not go to school, eat nothing but ice cream and never have to go to bed, because that’s also what children “want”. How ridiculous!

  11. KB says:

    7. What do I think of Jean-Guy Beauvoir at this point? At this point, I feel sorry for JG. He does appear to be broken and unable to help himself heal. He has lost it all: the woman he loves, the loving relationship with his mentor, his self-respect at his job, his sense of security at work, his previous good appearance – even his hygiene. He looks to be close to rock bottom and unable to pull himself out of the quicksand.

    • Sylvia H. says:

      KB, I feel the same way about Jean-Guy at this point – I’m desperately anxious about him. Gamache says at one point that he realized that Jean-Guy had never really got up off that factory floor. He had been doing better before Francoeur showed up at the monastery. Francoeur had the ability to get into people’s heads, and he got right into Beauvoir’s. This is why Gamache begged him not to have anything to do with Francoeur and not to engage him, but of course, Beauvoir does exactly that and Francoeur gets him. From then on it’s all downhill for Beauvoir. He keeps being sent on these raids simply in hopes he’ll be killed, as Francoeur knows that Gamache will worry about him and be distracted from what he’s supposed to be working on, and also that he’ll grieve if Beauvoir is killed. Beauvoir is never anything to Francoeur except a pawn in his cruel game against Gamache. Beauvoir doesn’t realize this, but he’s so afraid and the fear keeps him in pain, and then they keep giving him the painkillers. He’s being pushed down to the very bottom and Francoeur and Tessier don’t expect or intend that he will ever get up again.

    • Julie says:

      I feel that the point where Jean-Guy’s clothing stank and clung to him “like a second skin” and yet, he didn’t bathe; where he was hungry, but he didn’t eat; that this was his “rock bottom”. I hope so. He needs to know that I can’t go through this with him again, hahahaha.

  12. KB says:

    8. I think of Ruth and Yvette Nichol when I hear that line in “Alas”. I also think of the people who have not spoken to family members because of real or imagined slights and who have regrets when death takes away the possibility of reconciliation.

    • Julie says:

      I’ve certainly always thought of Ruth when I see those lines. And I can see Nichol, too. But also, there’s something buried deep in his childhood, I think, for Beauvoir. Peter doesn’t snarl, but he doesn’t respond to overtures, either. I expect we’ll find that most of the people we love or love to hate in these novels have something buried deep down. Some long ago hurt that never healed, that was just covered over and has festered ever since. And of course, every murderer we’ve encountered was that way. Those verses are just the perfect ones to be woven throughout all the novels.

  13. Barbara H. Johnson says:

    # 6 Celebrity certainly has its down side. I don’t think I would enjoy being mobbed every time I went in public. People taking pictures and criticizing my appearance. People finding fault with every thing I said or did. It would be very difficult for children and teens to go through such and not be scarred emotionally.

  14. Diana Schafer says:

    Dionne Quints: Born long before me, but still part of a childhood fantasy for a little girl in NYC. Like one character in this book I imagined I could be a Quint , or Princess Margaret.

    • Karen Gast says:

      I’ll ask forgiveness, but this poem by Walt Kelly in one of his Pogo books sums up well my feelings for those like the Quints and Princess Margaret with whom I felt some kind of connection when I was young. Here goes:

      “To Princess Margaret Rose”

      The last photograph and a half of you,
      Over 4 million miles of sea,
      Broke a heart already unsteady
      Over 6 million miles of sea.

      We’ve suffered, we’ve suffered much with you,
      Over 9 million miles of sea (more or less)
      None the less we are ready
      Over 10 million miles of sea.

      With the old and new and the borrowed and blue
      Over 12 million miles of sea,
      We’d give up the throne (Had we one of our own)
      And invite the family to tea.

      But what would we do with the children?
      And what would we do with the sea?
      We’d really no notion there was so much O-cean.
      Love and kisses, the Mrs. and me.

      • Julie says:

        Love the sense of whimsy here, Karen! :D

        • Karen Gast says:

          Pogo always contained whimsy, but if you read (or feel) a bit beneath it … Guess I felt sorry for Margaret who had all those O-ceans between her and the comfort of “ordinary” life interaction. Ditto the Quints.

          • Julie says:

            True – and I remember feeling especially sorry for Margaret because, while she had all encumbrances of “royal” life, she didn’t have a job, like her sister, so nothing to do but try to find her way, all in a fishbowl.

  15. Karen I Ford says:

    The pictures I remember of the Quints were the smiling little girls all dressed alike and smiling for the cameras. It was not until I was older and read about their tragic situation, did I really feel such empathy for them and wondered why their parents had allowed the government to take them. I can remember how sad I felt when the one sister died from epilepsy. Louise was able to fill the reader in on the events as part of the several themes in this book.
    My utter hatred for Francoeur proved to be totally justified. What he did to Jean-Guy was so so beyond the pale! What he did to the Cree people was even more unbelievable! The greed and malice made me ill as I read the account.
    My heart broke for Armand. To realize what had been done to him for so many years was sickening. And my heart broke for Jean-Guy. He was used a pawn by Francoeur to destroy Armand. But in the meantime, JG was being destroyed — his work, his relationship with both Armand and Annie, and his very life.
    As with all good storytellers, the death of the woman in the tunnel had to be somehow related to the story line and, as we will learn in the second half of the book, it is significant.
    This story was the most difficult to read — it brought to a head so many threads that needed to be connected to one another.

    • Sylvia H. says:

      Karen, I agree this book is very hard to read. It was okay the first time because I didn’t know what was coming, but in the re-read I knew it was going to be hard and painful. I cried a lot in this book, especially for Jean-Guy and Armand. Their pain is now mine because I love them both so much.

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