The Cruelest Month, Part 2

Recap (Chapters 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.

Conclusion

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.

Favorite Quote

“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.”

Discussion Questions

1. 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?

2. Did you cry when you read about Ruth’s Lilium?

3. 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?

4. 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?

5. Who was your favorite character in this book? I came to really like Jeanne Chauvet.

6. Finally what are your thoughts on the percolating jealousy of Peter for Clara’s work?

Robin AgnewRobin Agnew is the co-owner of Aunt Agatha's Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she and her husband Jamie have sold books together for 21 years. She is a reviewer for Mystery Scene and you can read her reviews on Facebook, Twitter and on the Aunt Agatha's website. She and her husband and their bookstore were recently honored by the Mystery Writers of America with the Raven Award.

Discussion on “The Cruelest Month, Part 2

  1. Ann Lurie Berlin says:

    The sentient presence of life’s unfolding is spellbinding.
    So many senses are touched.

  2. Carol Miro says:

    I think I found Clara’s painting of Ruth online. It is “Mater Dolorosa” by Paul Mak, a Russian artist. I am unable to post the painting here, but Google it and see what you think.

    I find reading Louise Penny to be very spiritual. She delves down ruthlessly to the deepest parts of her characters’ souls and exposes their struggles to be in relationship with themselves and]each other. Jealousy is indeed a deep source of conflict, jealousy of others, and indeed jealousy of the unfulfilled, failed parts of oneself. I think this is the source of Peter’s jealousy of Clara, he is not only jealous of her talent, but he is jealous of his own inability to take the risk to be unafraid of his own talent and let it flow unrestrained. So many , Hazel, Odile, Sophie, Officer Nicole and Beauvoir and Brebeuf, are jealous of the unfulfilled parts of themselves and unable to trust themselves to be happy and this contaminates their lives to various degrees.

    • Meg R says:

      Carol, as an impulsive fellow ‘googler’, I did look up the Paul Mak painting. I have to disagree with you. When I looked at that face, I immediately thought 1.) this is a nun (and possibly very sheltered from the world), and 2.) not only am I looking at the face of possible great grief or sorrow, but am also looking into the eyes of madness. This face isn’t at all what I pictured when I imagined Clara’s portrait of Ruth. More on this later when I sort out what I want to say, but even thick-skulled Peter, who denies emotions, received a very heavy gut punch when he not only saw something else that Clara had captured in Ruth’s eyes but surprisingly recognized it. I don’t think that Ruth is mad, as in marbles missing. I find her to be very grounded in reality. Does this make any sense?

      • Carol Miro says:

        Dear Meg R. , I do not see psychotic madness in Paul Mak’s painting, but it see the deep pain of almost unbearable grief. The grief of someone who has lost a deep love, perhaps a child. I see Ruth as very sane, and someone who loves her fellow folk very deeply, so deeply it is safer to put up a rude shell to protect the depth of her feelings. I believe Clara may be imagining the pain Ruth is afraid of feeling if her barriers came down.
        The wonderful thing about art is two people can look at the same piece of art and come away with very different impressions and both are right.

        • Meg R says:

          Carol, you’re absolutely right! And – no worries about calling me out about my reaction. We each see, read, interpret via the strings of our own prior knowledge and experiences. When I looked at Mak’s Madonna – I saw the depth of her pain, but I didn’t see that special thing that Clara captured in Ruth’s eyes. Have you really ever looked into the eyes of someone who actually is mad? There’s an emptiness, a hollowness, a lack of connection present that one can’t escape from noticing. That’s what I saw in Mak’s portrait. What figuratively ‘knocked the socks off’ of Peter was that he could see the beginnings of Hope in Ruth’s eyes – not that despair, not that emptiness. For me – Mak painting stops at the ‘madness’ of grief/despair/loss and doesn’t seem capable of potentially moving beyond that. Clara’s painting captured Ruth making that movement. Does this make sense? I’ve been really intrigued by Ruth since the first book and so want to know her story – which we haven’t been given – except for little bit with Jane Neal and Timmer in the first book. Yeah, I like Gamache. He’s a good man and the moral center of all of these novels whom we all adore, but Ruth, Clara, Nichol and Jean-Guy intrigue me more for some reason.

          • Robin Agnew says:

            I think that painting is not quite it – I don’t see the hope in that one, though I think the style might be similar to Clara’s. Interestingly, I’ve heard Louise say that the art form that moves her most is music, not painting, which I find fascinating as she writes so knowingly about it. I would in fact compare her to Ngaio Marsh who has an artist character; I think Marsh DID have artistic ambitions.

      • FionaTheBrit says:

        Clara’s use of green instead of blue separates Ruth from the Madonna image and creates a more ‘human’ response. This woman is not perfect, there is hope for us all.

    • Linda Maday says:

      I don’t believe Yvette is jealous. I think she wants to be invited in, she feels lonely and isolated, but as she tell Gamache, she also feels comfortable standing on the outside.

      • Julie says:

        Linda, I agree – I think that Yvette really DOES feel more comfortable on the outside, and is, perhaps, envious of those who feel comfortable in the group. She longs to be part of the group and has not the first idea of how to get in there. She thinks it’s because she has “not been invited” in, but she really WAS, when Gamache invited her to join the team. Like when she stands outside her family circle, claiming not to be “invited” in to sit at the table (where there is not a seat for her), she doesn’t realize that you don’t need to be invited to be a part of your own family – especially in your own home. Her father doesn’t make any effort to bring her in – I have to think he is very happy as things are!

        • Meg R says:

          Know what’s funny? I read this before and completely forgot that 1) Nichol was “under cover” for Gamache and 2) who actually ‘done it’ until I reached those latter chapters!

          • Julie says:

            Meg, I never remember who did the crime – it’s always the character development that stays with me. And, while I was SURE that Yvette was undercover for Gamache, I kept thinking to myself that I was remembering wrong and that she must also be working for Brebeuf (along with Lemieux).

          • Terry says:

            I had totally forgotten that Nichol was undercover for Gamache. I’d also forgotten the murderer, but I always do because I enjoy the discovery process so much. But I can’t believe I forgot (or missed) Yvette’s loyalty!

  3. Marie . says:

    Thank you, Robin, for clarifying that Brebeuf came to Three Pines towards the end of the book. Somehow I missed that fact, thinking Gamache and he met in Quebec.
    Sadly, I’ve met and had to deal with several people who are “Madeline’s.” I always found such dealings most uncomfortable and not just because that person seemed to steal the limelight, whether good or bad stealing. Rather, I always found such people sad, almost as if they felt a lacking within themselves and, therefore, had to shine to overcome that self-deficit. In a way, I classify such people as “bullies.”
    And how (!) – jealousy creates and seems to generate its own conflict, whether realized/known or not. And tied in with jealousy, I see envy. Both, to me, are evident in this book. Peter is an obvious example of this, to me, in terms of his views on Clara’s paintings. Up to now, Peter has been “the” painter of renown in this family; consciously or sub-consciously, he doesn’t want anything to remove that title. So at times, I have to wonder if Peter’s “not getting it” with Clara’s paintings is affected, so he can continue to keep himself as the best of the two. That’s not to deny other things, say, in Peter’s past that contribute to this; but this is what I picked up on with Book 3.
    Hooray for Jean-Guy – FINALLY he spoke up to Gamache. I was beginning to wonder if all of Jean-Guy’s inner thoughts, that we’ve been privy to, would stay hidden or if he’d say something to Gamache. I was concerned that Jean-Guy had put Gamache on so high a pedestal (like a god), that Jean-Guy let that adoration hinder a true working relationship. Personally, I find it healthy that Jean-Guy let loose at Gamache. And, I’d like to think – beyond the words spoken – that Gamache thought better of Jean-Guy for having done so. Particularly since we now know Jean-Guy is being groomed by Gamache as his successor, I think this airing of feelings will make for a healthier relationship between these men going forward.
    Ruth is still my 2nd favorite (after Gamache) character. As this was my first reading (unbeknownst when I started!) of Book 3, I’m thrilled to see that I guessed right about Ruth – her rough exterior is really a cover for a very soft, genuine, loving heart. Something has hurt Ruth terribly (hopefully we’ll learn what!) in the past; thus, her gruffness is a coping mechanism. And in a way, I can relate – it’s difficult to keep the heart open and receptive to giving and getting love, when it’s been beat down so many times and from many directions. As for Lilium’s death, I saw it coming and wasn’t really surprised. That’s Nature – the strong survive; and instinctively, Lilium’s geese parents would have realized her fate and ignored her themselves. That’s just nature’s way. As for the effect on Ruth, yes, it was most disheartening; and I can see Ruth bundling her heart in even more layers of gruffness. Will she dare to open up again? I will not be surprised if that answer turns out to be “no.”

    • KB says:

      Louise’s use of jealousy rang true to me. I’ve seen jealousy make people tear others down. Sometimes it is overt, resulting in a response of “he’s not so good” when others point out talents or character. Other times it goes underground and comes out as various means of trying to diminish its object. I found it very disturbing to see how it came out with Peter. The hope is that a spouse will build you up, make you more, and help you become a better person. For Hazel, it seems that she had buried the jealousy for so long that when it came out, it came out with a vengeance.
      Unlike Marie, I don’t see Madeleine as grasping for attention. I didn’t see her as “sad” in that way. I thought Madeleine was truly one of those people who is naturally talented and charismatic. Her husband said, “it’s like being too near the sun”. I thought what he was saying is that he became almost invisible because everyone saw Madeleine and everyone wanted her time. In the end, he didn’t feel special enough (or just enough).

    • Julie says:

      Marie – I think that’s very interesting that you think that Jean Guy had put Gamache on a pedestal and that his finally insisting Gamache tell him the whole story was a healthy step towards feeling more like a peer than a worshipper. I find Jean Guy to be the most complex of the characters – and one who goes through more change than any other during the books. I have often wondered if this angry outburst is not the first step down a more dangerous road, though it’s very early days yet… Not to let any further cats out of the bag, but I think that the caged “something” deep inside Jean Guy is something to watch out for…

      • Marie . says:

        I see – and understand – what you’re saying, Julie, regarding Jean-Guy and his outburst the start of going down a dangerous road. My reaction is based strictly on what we’ve learned through Book 3 about Jean-Guy, with no reactive hints to what’s still to come from Louise. As in many cases, I think, people’s sudden outbursts can have long-lasted ramifications.

    • FionaTheBrit says:

      I think Ruth ‘found’ the ducklings to allow her character to develop. Even late in life she is to be allowed to heal herself. The ducklings ‘love’ her unequivocally, I think she has not experienced unequivocal love in her life.

      Through the ducklings she discovers her mistake in trying to help Lilium, she loved the duckling too much but that love caused her to mortally wound the creature. Ruth has to forgive herself for this unwitting act of betrayal and this perhaps gives her an in sight into past perceived acts of betrayal against her that she can now recognise as not deliberate.

      Via this experience she learns the gift of giving love more openly and allowing love into her relationships with others. This is the start of the metamorphosis of Ruth as seen in Clara’s painting. She is publicly kind and compassionate to Odile.

      Penny really knows people, her insights are so rewarding and inspiring to me.

      • Julie says:

        Fiona, this is such an interesting thought. I had not been thinking along these lines at all, that Ruth’s growth and development were tired up in her experiences with Lilium and Rosa, the ducklings… but it makes so much sense now that you have shown me…

  4. Katherine Butler says:

    Carol,
    Thank you for researching what may be the inspiration for Clara’s painting of the old, embittered Virgin Mary with the tiny spark of hope in her eye — the painting “Mater Dolorosa” by Paul Mak. I had been wanting to ask Louise Penny if she indeed had a specific work in mind for this artist character’s masterpiece. I have been so influenced by this particular aspect of the story which is carried on into other books in the series. I feel that it is an important thread that the author has chosen to explore. Hand in hand it seems to meld with the poetry of Ruth Zardo as a way of helping the reader uncover the layers of depth in these two characters.
    Whether this particular portrait is the spark or not, it is a haunting painting and I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in the colors and lines that create it. Looking at this work of art helps me to understand why Peter is so threatened by his wife’s talent. Had she painted something so rich and detailed and utterly absorbing, it would be difficult for another artist, filled with ego and self-importance, to graciously admit his inferiority. I think it would not be the same had the shoe been on the other foot — I think Peter feels emasculated by Clara’s talent.

    • Meg R says:

      And, Katherine, by his daddy’s voice which he still allows to rattle and drone on in his head – and by his own refusal, reluctance to ‘grow up.’

  5. Linda Maday says:

    Ruth would never go against her nature which is to love deeply. The way she reconsidered giving Odile the book and instead chose to lift her up is a good indication of that. In fact Ruth is an interesting counter point to Peter. Peter chose to belittle his wife, insecure in his own talent. The famous poet Ruth lifts Odile. Who knows, maybe the encouragement will help Odile grow. Whether it does or so or not, she would realize that complimenting the struggling poet did not diminish her own talent.

  6. Karen I Ford says:

    Jealousy is a cruel master and Louise shows us just how cruel. Just look at the relationships that are being destroyed in this book. Jealousy is like gossip — nothing good really comes from it.
    Ruth is a puff-ball under that exterior of gruffness. She does not believe that she has any maternal instinct but it comes roaring to the surface in how she wants to help Lilium, which does the exact opposite. Of course she is devastated and I think that this is why she is so protective of Rosa in this book and the subsequent novels. As the layers of Ruth are exposed, like an onion, we learn more about her but not quite who or what has hurt her in the past.
    Myrna is a resource that can give Gamache more insight into his cases. The more I see of her, the better I like her and want to know her better.
    Peter is an emasculated male that is so cruel and jealous of Clara and her native talent, while professing his love and admiration. We need to see what happened in his childhood and adolescence has scarred him and made him such a fool! As an old saying goes, “he is brilliant in his own mind”.
    Clara, for all of her intelligence and artistic ability, is blinded by him. You almost want to shake her and make her wake up to how cruel and mean he can be.
    The story behind the rift in the Surete and what an “old boys club” it really is — not that unusual in any police department, no matter what country! Gamache is only upholding the law and he is really caught between a rock and a hard place and the sides are closing in on him!
    The story of the Cree has come right out of recent headlines and rings true, whether you are Canadian or an American. Once again, it is Gamache’s ability to really listen to the victims. This is the lesson he is trying to impart on his team. Some listen to him and some have to stumble often to learn his lessons. I did not think that Jean-Guy would ever stand up to Gamache. He has placed him on such a high plinth that seeing Gamache as a mere mortal will have consequences.
    The contrast between Isabella and Yolande is like looking at a Janus mask. This interaction is fascinating to observe.
    I have had no desire to look at the painting, preferring what I imagine in my mind’s eye.
    I want to take Clara aside and have her really look at what Peter’s jealousy is doing to her. I want her to see what we are seeing — that his jealousy is a sickness that is destroying them as artists and as a couple.
    I also want to know more about how Reine-Marie is handling the assault on her husband and her children. She is the rock in Armand’s world and we need to see more of her and her coping skills.
    It is really hard to chose just which character I love the best. They have become like a family that I can escape. Three Pines is that village where you want to call home!!

    • Cathryne Spencer says:

      Do you mean Isabelle and Yvette?

    • Julie says:

      Karen, I agree with so much of what you say, though I do think that Clara really IS aware of the damage being done by Peter’s sabotage. She is more complex and also more forgiving than we think sometimes. While she knows what Peter’s done, she also knows that all artists toe a very fine line between egotism and dismal insecurity. She does, and she imagines Peter does, as well, and of course, we can see clearly, that he does. I think that’s why she gives Peter the benefit of the doubt. I think that what he has done to her, however, is unforgivable and we will see more later. The dawning that not all is as it should be comes slowly to some of us, and we OUGHT to give our partners the benefit of the doubt until we simply can’t any longer. The support you wish for, you must also give, and she does that. These are my thoughts, anyway, as I compare this marriage to my first marriage. It took such a long time to really see what was happening, and even then, when a decision had been made to separate, and I knew it was the best thing for me, it hurt more than anything I’ve ever undergone or ever will. This is not a step you take lightly. Unfortunately, if Peter could have been a little more loving, and Clara asked for a little more honesty, it might have been avoided.

  7. Jane F says:

    1. 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?

    Yes, I think it is realistic. From the time we are toddlers, we feel envy and jealousy–perhaps towards a sibling, especially when that sibling is getting attention from a parent that the child wants for him/herself, or towards friends and acquaintances who may have shinier toys or playthings than the child does.
    In The Cruelest Month, we see how jealousy erodes relationships. I can think of three particular instances of jealousy and how it poisons a person’s thoughts towards another. (1) The jealousy felt by Hazel towards Madeleine. Madeleine brought a lot of joy to Hazel’s life, but all she could see was that with Mad around, she would always be in second place. Hazel was able to accept Madeleine(albeit briefly when Mad was in need of care and dependent on her), but when it looked as though Madeleine was going to recover, all of the old envy came roaring back.
    (2) Perhaps even worse than the jealousy Hazel felt for Madeleine is that felt by Brebeuf towards Gamache. I think the festering feeling has actually made Michel a bit mad. What’s the reason for HIS jealousy, since he’s the one who edged out Gamache in what would look like all the important areas of life–spouses, grandchildren, success at work? What spoils it for Brebeuf is that in spite of being number two, Gamache is still happy! A different kind of man would have felt relief that his friend was weathering the storm so well, but alas! Michel Brebeuf has shown himself to be in the same league as Francouer.

    3. Peter and Clara. Peter is eaten up with jealousy when he views Clara’s masterpiece for the first time. Apparently, her previous work, like the “Warrior Uteruses” was inferior or mediocre enough that it did not fuel his envy. Having a wife who was “dabbling” in art was clearly much more comfortable for him than having one who was capable of turning out splendid works of art. To cap off his unease, Denis Fortin made it clear that it was CLARA Morrow whose work he wanted to see, not Peter’s. I think that if Peter could have just expressed to Clara how hurt that made him feel, it would have had the effect of clearing the air between them. But, as I wrote earlier, Peter is uncomfortable with feelings, so he is not going to let Clara know how envious he is of her work now.
    The important thing in each of these instances is that each of the persons who felt envy made a choice to let that fester rather than dealing with it upfront and letting the other person know how they really felt. In a way, each of those figures is tragic, because they have a lot to offer, both in talent and potential for making a good influence on people around them. Instead, they welter in their own frustration because, although life has been good to them, it’s apparently been(or is going to be) even better for their friend.

    • Hope says:

      Jane–I think this is a fantastic analysis of the jealousy that eats at three central relationships in the book. I wonder, however, if clearing the air would have really been possible in any of these relationships.

      For example, if Brebeuf told Gamache about his resentment, I’m guessing that Gamache would be calm and understanding–which might infuriate Brebeuf still more, since Brebeuf is already enraged that Gamache isn’t jealous of HIM? Similarly, if Madeline told Hazel she understood how Hazel might feel, would Hazel really feel reassured, or would she see it as yet another example of Mad being radiant and wonderful in ways that cast Hazel in the shadow?

      I also find it hard to see such a discussion between Peter and Clara ending well. Might it not put Clara in an impossible position (which she may sense anyway) of feeling that she can’t have both a successful career and a loving husband?

      But it’s fascinating to imagine how these conversations might have altered events. For example, while I’m not sure whether Mad could have reassured Hazel, I’m thinking that it might have saved her life if she had found an excuse to remove herself from Three Pines and Sophie’s life.

      • Jane F says:

        Hope,
        I think you are probably right that for the three characters I was discussing who had the most difficulty with feeling envy, it would not have been easy to express that to the person to which the envy was directed. Perhaps all that could be hoped for is that each one of those persons could have been honest with him/herself and admitted (to themselves) that (a) he/she was feeling envy and (2) it wasn’t really logical. Think about how life might have been better, for example, had Brebeuf taken himself to a pyschologist or psychiatrist to discuss his feelings of envy towards his boyhood friend. Or, if Hazel had just been able to articulate to Mad how hurt it made her feel that her, Hazel’s daughter, greeted Mad first instead of her. Perhaps it would have hurt Madeleine’s feelings, but at least she would have been aware that she should take more care not to get between Hazel and Sophie. Have to say that of the three people who are in a relationship where they feel envy, Peter Morrow is the least able to deal with his envy. Oh, sure, temporarily he thinks he’s gotten rid of the feeling, but it’s clear what he was really doing was suppressing it. Not too surprising since it’s clear he doesn’t trust feelings, so what options does he have, then, in dealing with them, aside from denying what he’s feeling? I mean, the man can’t even admit when he’s feeling anger, and that’s one of the easiest emotions to recognize.

    • Julie says:

      Jane F. – I think that the jealousy Brebeuf has for Gamache is so real. My husband is a professor. One day, shortly after we were married, he was sitting in his office when a colleague he didn’t know very well stopped by and asked him – “You are nowhere near as successful as I am – I have been published more, have chaired the department, gotten awards – so why are YOU so happy?” When my husband explained that he didn’t expect to get his happiness from work, the man looked at him incredulously, and walked away. He was clearly eaten up with jealousy, but for no good reason… This is what I thought of when I read about Brebeuf, and I think the most telling part about the whole episode is Brebeuf remembering (too late) that Gamache had been a part of all 14 of his happy days… I think that Gamache’s memories of the support he felt from Brebeuf when they were children caused him to want to hold onto the friendship longer than was good for him, but I love that he gave him the benefit of the doubt almost to the very end. Even then, he didn’t confront – he waited patiently for Brebeuf to make his move. Gamache is not vengeful – just saddened by what has been lost.

      • Jane F says:

        Thanks for sharing that, Julie. I think perhaps what your husband experienced was an attempt at academic bullying, but when he failed to express fear or anxiety, the would-be bully walked away. Of course, for some people, success IS solely connected to their work, and not for their family or personal beliefs. It seems almost incredible that such a person would have the gall to have said that to your husband, but apparently, like Brebeuf, he couldn’t stand to see someone else being happy, and not understand WHY.
        Too bad that was in the past, or your husband could have suggested to that person that he read her books because there was a character in her books that he resembled! If he still has to work around that person, giving him the nickname of “Brebeuf” would be a quite appropriate albeit sly reference to that person’s character!

        • Julie says:

          Oh, it was 20-odd years ago. I expect my hubby wouldn’t even remember it, but it kind of stuck with me as just being so odd that you’d ever let anyone see such an unattractive side of yourself, as the other prof. did. I know it didn’t bother my husband, who is the most grounded person I’ve ever met. Me, it would have been festering these 20 years, hahahaha.

  8. Janet B says:

    I can’t believe how much I forgot about this book. What a joy to be reintroduced. The best thing about these books is getting the chance to visit with my old friends.

  9. Pat says:

    I read this book in one day because I could not put it down. Good thing I am retired….Louise Penny is a terrific author and I have come to love each one of the characters in Three Pines. I especially like the tokens of philosophy evident throughout the book. I feel that I am learning something new every day or a new way of thinking about something I already feel. Yes, I wanted to cry when Ruth’s Lilium died. A well intentioned act leading to a tragedy is always hard to fathom, especially when it is done by one’s own hand.

  10. Meg R says:

    MEG R – GOING OUT ON A LIMB
    I’ve been having some questions and issues with these “discussions” of Mrs. Penny’s books. Am just going to put my neck out on the chopping block and see where this goes. My intentions are to help enrich our sharing and understanding of novels we are reading.

    1. STORY SUMMARIES: Is it really necessary to fill up opening page of each week’s ‘discussion’ with a 37 paragraph (this week’s) repeat/summary? One assumes that if each of us has chosen to join this group, that we also accept the implied responsibility of actually reading that week’s chapters. Why do we need someone else to tell us what we’ve read? We’re supposed to be responsible for that task.
    2. IDENTIFICATION OF “THEMES”: By someone else doing this for us, it’s like the joy of discovery and actually thinking about what we’ve read has been usurped by someone else – BEFORE we actually begin discussion of that week’s chapters. We each have a marvelous muscle between our ears and are capable of using it! Doesn’t St. Martin’s trust its readers to be able to examine and think about what actually has been written by Louise Penny?
    3. HAS ST. MARTIN”S EVER ATTEMPTED A “BOOK CLUB” BEFORE? I am assuming ( and yes, I could be wrong, but from the quality of many of the responses, I don’t think I am about this!) – I am assuming that most of our posters have been participants in other live or on-line book clubs. Frankly, this has been one of the most unwieldy ones that I have experienced. Mega-gigundo THANK YOU to Paul H for paginations and staggered postings when we specifically reply to each other. Both have helped to clear up some of the ‘burdensomeness’ of this site.
    But – what we seem to be lacking here thus far – is a strong Discussion Leader – who 1) Doesn’t just give us answers or pats on the head of agreement , but 2) offers real questions about what’s actually been written that ask us to think about what we’ve read. We saw a few entries from two “DL’s” on the first page of this novel – but nothing since. Seems like Jane and Linda and Carol have stepped up to do this for us on this page. Granted. I missed much of first half of book discussion. Not here for it, but I did finish reading the book Sunday night. There have been other requests to primarily talk about the book. Is it possible for us to do that? To actually look at what Penny has written and said? I’m not saying that we cut out the chatter & the enrichment threads that we each bring into this – i.e. the Maks painting, tidbits that one person remembers that most of us forgot, etc. etc. etc. I enjoyed reading this series the first time, but have been absolutely stunned by just how many little crumbs and clues have been scattered for us that I totally missed on first reads. I love, absolutely LOVE – new discoveries made by me or anyone else – that make me think and look at things in a new way. Guess I’m just hoping for more of that -than less – in the rest of these.

    • Nancy Miller says:

      Meg…I for one have never ever been in a book club of any kind. Probably because I don’t like someone else telling me what to read. (I suppose this is a hold-over from college where I took courses because I loved to read. In the end it meant that we read some of the most depressing books which totally destroyed my interest in doing that ever again.) In this case since I LOVE Louise Penny’s books I decided I wanted to join. My involvement here has been mostly to “listen” and enjoy everyone else’s views. That’s been an education in itself so even if I don’t say much I’m finding it very rewarding. Thanks All!

      • Meg R says:

        BUT, NAAAAAANNNNNNCCCCY! Go ahead and open your mouth! You to have a lifetime of experiences, life knowledge that you bring to this book and this discussion! Just dive right in! You – like most of us – have made observations, discoveries developed insights as you read. Don’t be afraid to share! Sure, you might get something wrong – I do frequently, but an usually enriched by the observations and discoveries of everyone else – who may or may not have seen things differently. You’re listening to the “Queen of Foot-in-the-Mouth” here! I have absolutely no problem being corrected or asked to defend a statement. I dare ya! Jump in and get your feet wet!

        • FionaTheBrit says:

          Some people prefer a place on the sidelines, it does not mean they are not questioning and enjoying in their own way.

    • Connie says:

      Dear Meg,

      I’m with you! I would really like some discussion of the structure and plotting of these wonderful books. For instance in Cruelest Month, the back and forth between the Surete betrayal story and Madeleine’s murder is tricky. Do you think Penny handled this well?
      Penny has three major holidays central to each of these books… Thanksgiving, Christmas and now Easter. How well do you think she’s woven these holidays into the plots?

      And I agree we don’t really need plot summaries at the beginning. Love the ‘big muscle between our ears’ mention.

      I’m loving the re-reading. I see references, clues and foreshadowings that I’ve missed. May have to re-read Cruelest Month yet another time. :)

      • Meg R says:

        Connie, Yes, I have also noted Penny’s habit of hanging latest story on a major holiday. In a way, she’s bringing her story to our own experiences /prior knowledge of each of them and then letting us ‘color’ our views of her story through them. Deliberate? I don’t know, but suspect that might be so.

        Know what I found funny (not ha ha – but unusual) this time? I wasn’t really that engaged in the Madeleine murder story. That seemed to be peripheral draping/ distraction for me to the Brebeuf and Francouer plotting & outcomes. Not sure why. Will post about Madeleine later. Yes, I agree with you that Penny does competently bounce between the two plot threads here.

        • Marie . says:

          I agree, Meg, that Louise’s use of the holidays helps ground the plot in a framework we can understand and many of us relate to. While I did not find Madeleine’s murder peripheral, I was far more interested in the Surete/Brebeuf/Arnot matter, based on the number of previous references and guessing – without giving anything away – that it will continue to haunt future books. That said, I didn’t think the murder was a distraction; rather, I thought it helped ground the Surete/Brebeuf/Arnot matter and give us further insights into Gamache and his working relationships with the team.

          • Jane F says:

            Marie, (and others) let’s not forget that it is the suspicious death of Madeleine which brings Gamache and his crew back to Three Pines. Without that fulcrum, there wouldn’t be any way to work in the machinations of Lemiuex and Brebeuf.

    • Linda Maday says:

      Meg. I love you being here and always enjoy your take on the subject.

      I like the way this is working, though. In every book club I’ve been in there is a leader that sets the tone. It’s not always the route I would have taken, but that means I’m moved out of my comfort zone to new discoveries.

      I think the synopsis is for those of us that get tired flipping back and forth to refresh our failing memories on the order of things. Just scroll past it. Easy peasy.

      If there’s something someone wants to discuss, be daring and bring it up. There’s nothing wrong in introducing, politely, a new subject. If someone wants to speak of the plot or relationships or whatever, it’s good to exercise our own creativeness in getting around to sharing what we have discovered. Whenever that’s been done here I always say to myself, “JOY!” (Insert a happy melody here.) We all have brains, individual brains and to join them all together and get them moving in the same direction someone needs to get us started and we the participants can then take it to wherever it seems to want to go.

      There are two things I think would help me and they’re quite simple.

      1) It would be nice if we each responded to one topic at a time. It’s hard to respond to someone when they have answered every question in a single posting.

      2) In the book clubs I’ve participated in we’ve been asked to read the entire book before the discussion. Be that as it may, at the very least I find it difficult to fully cover a topic when I have to be so careful about spoilers. It’s not difficult to avoid revealing information about upcoming books, but when within the same book those that haven’t finished should be reminded that they may run into spoilers during the discussion.

      We all have a love of these books, it’s such Anjou to participate! Less harrumphing more joy!

    • Julie says:

      Hmmmm – I have been seeing that you are not happy with the way the group is working, Meg, but wonder why, instead of bringing up a batch of new rules and procedures for how you think things ought to work, you don’t instead, just open a new thread to discuss something that you wish to discuss. I, for one, need the synopsis at the top of the page. Even though I’ve just read the book, I am now reading the next one – need to keep everything straight as to what has happened so far for the discussion’s purposes. This is especially true for the first half of the book, as it’s hard for me to keep track of whether something has already happened in the story we are discussing, or if we have to hold that thought until we’re discussing the second half. So I would miss the synopsis. It’s not that long, and if you click on “comments” at the top of the page it takes you halfway down the page to where the comments begin.

      I like to have a “jumping off point” given by the questions – but have absolutely no objection to someone introducing a new topic that they’d like to discuss. I like the informality of that and I feel that we have done that all along. I don’t think the “leader” is meant to cut off discussions that aren’t going the way she or he planned, or to re-direct discussions to what she or he thinks is important – all points of view should be given equal weight. Then, if some part of a discussion doesn’t interest you, you can just go on to the next thing. And if no-one has mentioned something you think would be important to discuss, you introduce that topic. But I don’t think we need to conform to a particular format.

      I say this with no rancor – and I will happily follow along whatever format comes along, but just thought I ought to put in my two cents’ worth – that this discussion, as we have been going, is not something that needs to be fixed.

      • Meg R says:

        Know what, Julie? You just gave me an idea!
        OUR HERO, MR. PAUL H! – Would it be possible to put these lengthy story summaries as a blue band in the top right – like the ones you have for “Overview, Part I Discussion, Part 11 Discussion, Reading Guides, Buy” – under the photo of the book cover?
        That way, they’d be there as a resource for anyone who wants/needs a recap – and would free up discussion pages for quicker access to our postings? Whaddaya think, Mr. Paul? :~}

        • Julie says:

          I am not trying to be obstinate, but why have to click over to another page to see this just because you would rather not see it? If you just click on the word “comments” at the top of the page, you zoom to the comments section. It seems to me easier for you to do this than for those of us who want the synopsis to have to page back and forth.

          Meg, I know you had something in mind when you joined this group – that you had expectations for how it would work, and this is different from that vision that you had. I have been enjoying this group so much, and have been doing the re-read and the discussions for fun. I have a feeling you think I’m having fun wrong. I’d really prefer to leave the format as it is and allow any and everyone to bring up a subject they’d like to discuss.

          It’s been said that people “hope there will be more discussion of plot” and other things, and rather than hope for that, why not just start a new topic and discuss the plot? We can all start a new thread whenever we want – no need to change formats for this to happen.

          • Laura Kay says:

            Julie, I agree. The format is perfectly fine to me. Feels like a conversation with a group of friends. Some people answer one way, some another. It’s all fine. If it were more structured – that would probably be fine, too. But it would make me crazy to have someone telling me I am answering wrong – saying too much or too little. I am just happy to have a forum to discuss books that have had a profound impact on my life. I breeze by the synopsis and go right to the questions. I do like having it there to remind me of what this book includes. As someone who has read these books through many times, I forget what happens in what book and would be likely to get a little muddled without it. All in all, I don’t think there’s a reason to change the format or introduce tight control.

          • Lizzy says:

            I so agree Julie. I’ve participated in so far, but I’m mostly a sideliner. I love the synopis as my muscle between the ears is not so supple anymore! lol

      • Meg R says:

        Julie, Guess I’m just spoiled! I’m used to book clubs (live and on-line) where it’s easy to carry on a discussion – without interminable scrollings to find something. Actually was in one that allowed us to use italics and colored fonts to separate ideas & add quotes from each other or the text for more careful responses.

        This lock-step responding to 6 opinion based questions in one block is tiresome and makes it difficult for all of us to focus on a topic.

        I’d love to see some means developed for including our questions/topics for discussion to be added to supplied lists. We seem to come up with some good, and frankly, at times – better stuff!
        Am gonna keep plugging at this and wait for our resident Miracle Man to see what he can do!

    • Diane Grindol says:

      I would love each question to become a thread. The comments seem to jump all over the place to me.

  11. Jane F says:

    Well, I for one would like to explore more of the territory mapped out by question #1. I’ve already discussed a bit about several relationships plagued by envy, but what of the other part of the question? what are some of the other emotions we see lurking in this book? For example, I’d be interested in hearing from other members of this discussion as to their impressions of some of the other relationships we see in this book. How would you characterize the relationship between Madeleine and Sophie? Odile and Gilles? Beauvoir and Gilles? LeMieux and Nichol? Are these relationships healthy or unhealthy? Why? Any other pairings you’d like to discuss under this heading?
    I will start off by saying that I was very intrigued by Beauvoir and Gilles. At first, Beauvoir is a bit intimidated by Gilles when he sees how huge Gilles is, but as he chats with him, something unusual for Jean-Guy happens. He begins to identify with Gilles, so that when Gilles tells him he won’t tell him, Jean-Guy, what the trees say to him, Beauvoir is actually disappointed. This is a huge leap for a man who is always suspicious of anything vaguely smacking of the supernatural! I wonder if others would agree with me that a lot of it has to do with Gilles having previously been a lumberjack(obviously a very manly job) and his explanation why he quit that job. I also wonder if Gilles had not been so large and intimidating in appearance whether Jean-Guy would have been so impressed by him.

    • Meg R says:

      :~} Jane, you peeked at the Discussion Q’s at the top right! Yes, there are some good ones there!

    • FionaTheBrit says:

      I think this is the magic of “Three Pines” – it heals. In healing we slowly change who we are and allow the best of ourselves out.

  12. Jane F says:

    P.S. Anyone want to weigh in on the “relationship” between Odile and Ruth? Is Ruth somewhat jealous of the attention given to Odile, or is she rightfully dismissive of someone whose talent obviously(at least to her) is clearly mediocre or worse? And what about Odile? Why on earth would she decide to become a poet, in the very village where a rather famous poetess resides, but be so clearly clueless about the content of Ruth’s poetry? Is this more a factor of adolescent ignorance, or is it a sign of character weakness?

    • Hope says:

      How interesting about Ruth. My own take is that, although she’s a far more anguished person than Gamache in other ways, she shares his apparent immunity to jealousy. I can’t think of any instance in which Ruth feels threatened by someone else’s material or critical success; her poems may be FINE, but she doesn’t question their worth. Quite possibly it helps to have huge outside recognition in the form of the Governor General’s Award, but I’m not sure she cares all that much about the opinion of others.

      As for Odile: Maybe she doesn’t care all that much either? She thinks her poems are brilliant, which is the most important thing to her, even though she has a fantasy or two about worldwide acclaim. Which raises a really interesting question (to me, at least): Doesn’t Clara pretty much feel that way too? She seems basically happy pursuing her own creative vision, even if no one else understands it, though she dreams of achieving recognition some day. In what ways are Ruth, Odile, and Clara alike or different?

    • Meg R says:

      Yes! Ms. Jane F. of the Great Insights! — I’m going to come back to this later. The Clara – Peter painting thing’s been percolating between my ears today & want to get that down before I forget it!

    • Meg R says:

      A text Q: Don’t Ruth & Odile live in different villages? Ruth in 3 Pines & Odile in St. Remy (?)?

  13. Kathleen says:

    I may be wrong here, but I don’t think the purpose of the questions is that we only answer those questions. I think they are there to help readers think about some of the issues of the book. I don’t see anything wrong with someone taking the lead and asking or discussing other issues in the books. If fact I think it would enhance the experience. So I think you should feel free to bring up other topics and get a discussion thread going. I think the only restriction here is to not reveal more than the readers should have read by that posting date. Especially re-readers who have read the whole series.
    As for the synopsis at the beginning, this might be helpful for readers to trigger thoughts about the book. If you think they aren’t necessary, don’t read them. You can just scroll down to the blog entries or post your own.

    • Linda Maday says:

      Yes. Applause.

    • Robin Agnew says:

      I agree! In our actual book club at the store we start with a question and see where the discussion takes us – it’s always interesting.

    • Meg R says:

      Kathleen, I really don’t have a problem with guided questions to begin a discussion, but what we’ve seen are more of the same superficial stuff from week to week that seem to ask for opinion responses or preferences – instead of really looking into what’s in the book such as: – “Who’s your favorite ? ” “Would you like to live in 3 Pines” Does this help to clarify this?

  14. Penny Schmitt says:

    Penny’s exploration of envy, jealousy, and ‘the near enemy’ (all related but distinct themes, actually) touches all the characters–but that’s the created world of the novel. Addictions, bigotry, greed, misogyny and violence toward women and other sources of conflict and violence are not the focus here. In a way, that’s ‘artificial.’ In another way, when we encounter a horrific incident, that will provoke us to examine anything related happening in our own lives. In that way, Penny makes the logic of life and fiction converge even if the related threads are all pretty neatly braided into one story.
    This provokes us as readers to think about our own lives, and in what way we might be involved with a near enemy, or be a near enemy ourselves.
    Certainly I am provoked to think how slippery solicitude for another can be, when that other is a ‘near enemy’ towards whom we feel some resentment, or who feels resentment for us. Hazel’s constant solicitude for her daughter is disempowering and crippling. Toward her ‘friends’ it is also used as a means of being ‘one up.’ Peter’s solicitude towards Clara about her painting is a pure knife in the back, as is Brebeuf’s toward Gamache and his family trouble. I have this sort of thing going on under my own roof, as I care for a nearly 90-year-old parent with whom I’ve had a complex relationship.
    Drifting along in a state of unconsciousness about the emotions one feels is what seems most dangerous. Better not to be in denial, or you may soon find yourself acting out in a manner beyond your conscious control. Notice how Peter finds himself almost involuntarily being malicious to Clara. “The real Peter” is sort of disembodied and floating near the celing while “Bad Peter” jabs and slashes at his dear wife. What if Peter were a man with real friends, who could talk to someone else about his complicated feelings towards his wife’s talent?

  15. Penny Schmitt says:

    Another subject: 50 years of success and 14 days of real happiness! That sums up the self-evaluation that seems to drive Brebeuf’s envy of his friend Gamache.
    I loved that quotation, and thought it gave a lot to think about. Does anyone else feel struck by that passage and want to say something?

    • Linda Maday says:

      I was struck by this passage as well. Particularly a piece that followed when Brebeuf realized that most of those 14 instances of true happiness involved Gamache.

      • Meg R says:

        Know what? I think Brebeuf has been unable to be grateful for what he has accomplished – for what actually is in his life. He doesn’t know how to be at peace with himself, with who he is and has become and has made of himself. Emotionally, he reminds me of a hamster on a wheel – running, running for something else out of reach, when he has everything – off of that wheel to enrich his life: professional success and stature, a wife, family, grandchildren. He’s someone who (yeah cliche coming next!) who never learned to stop and smell the roses. He also inherently seems to know that he doesn’t possess the grace and equanimity that Armand does to face hardships thrown at him. Michel’s m.o. is to react – to fight back. He doesn’t understand why Armand doesn’t get into a down and dirty fight.

        • Jane F says:

          Meg, your post on Brebeuf got me to thinking(again). I hadn’t thought about one of his flaws being unable to feel gratitude for what he’s accomplished, except for the fact that he’s clearly not able to feel that when he sees Gamache being happy at being number two. Hadn’t thought about his not being able to be grateful, period. Your last line made me think a bit more about why he’s not been able to support Gamache rather than playing into Francouer’s hand. I think now, that on a very essential level, Michel Brebeuf, as probably many men do, think that a man who starts a fight, like Francouer, is stronger than a man who walks away from one, like Gamache. It never seems to have occurred to him that it actually took more strength of character for Gamache to walk away from unprovoked sniping than to try to engage in say, a bout of fisticuffs with Francouer. This reminds me a lot of the plot line of The Quiet Man, where John Wayne plays the role of an American ex-boxer who killed a man in the ring, and as a result, quit fighting, and moved to his old homestead in Ireland. Trouble ensued for him when the bully-brother of the woman he loved and wanted to marry thinks he’s a weakling for not standing up to his insults and fighting. Won’t give away the end of the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but just that part, about how Mary Kate Danneher(played to perfection by Maureen O’Hara) and her brother both fail to recognize that it’s taking more strength for Sean(JW) to walk away than fight.
          Back to Brebeuf. Perhaps he would’ve liked Armand a lot better had Gamache fired back at SF, but when I think about what might have resulted in that : assaulting a superintendant? Even if provoked, the least that would have happened would surely have been suspension for Gamache, if not termination of his Surete position. What, then, would have become of his team? Anyone want to guess what might have been the fate of Jean-Guy Beauvoir if Gamache had been fired for insubordination? Doubt if work would have been much easier for Isabelle, either. But Brebeuf is not a deep thinker. He doesn’t seem to consider any of these factors. I think he’s like a fair -weather fan, who follows blindly whichever candidate seems to be presenting the stronger front. He fails completely to see where his choice of undercutting Gamache will lead him.

          • Linda Maday says:

            One of my favorite movies. Favorite line in a movie ever.

            “Here’s a stick to beat the lovely lady!”

          • Sharon Norris says:

            I have trouble understanding the whole Breboef thing. I don’t understand why he came to Three Pines; did he intend for Lemieux to kill Gamache? Why? Why was Gamache apparently expecting him, especially there at that time? Was Nichol following them? That whole episode seemed strange and incomprehensible to me. I thought the motive for Breboef’s actions was a conviction that Gamache should resign because of the damage and scandal he had caused the Surete, but his reaction and his confession of envy of Gamache’s happiness is a more personal motive, and apparently caused his own disgrace, due to Lemieux’s actions.

          • Julie says:

            Sharon – I don’t think Brebeuf wanted Lemieux to kill Gamache – I think Lemieux got way out of line and couldn’t be controlled by Brebeuf anymore. I do think that Brebeuf came to Three Pines because he wanted to instigate a fight. He wanted to “poke the bear”. I think he thought if he could get Gamache to hit him, he could have him arrested and finally bring Gamache down in total disgrace – get rid of him from the Surete – not that he expected him to resign, but that he could be fired, and maybe even jailed for attacking a police officer. Certainly, at least, he could be fired for “conduct unbecoming”… Because he set Lemieux down the path, and then couldn’t control him, of course, he only orchestrated his own fall from grace.

          • Julie says:

            Jane – I love this analysis of Brebeuf and his motivations. I think his not being able to see a few moves ahead in his chess game has really been his undoing. He was fine as long as everything was going along in the status quo, but as soon as Gamache stepped over that “thin blue line” and showed his loyalty to humanity rather than the Surete, he spun for awhile, not knowing who to back! In the end, he felt a stronger need to conform to the “party line” of his superiors. By leaving Gamache “out there alone” – I think he felt guilt, then had to justify it to himself somehow, and worked hard at making Gamache come out as the bad guy. By the time he’d accomplished that, all was lost.

          • FionaTheBrit says:

            And on the note of strong men walking away – what about “The Big Country” with the gorgeous Gregory Peck walking away from bullies. Love that movie.

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