Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Questions for THE NATURE OF THE BEAST

  1. This novel is set in early autumn, with many references to apples throughout. What are some of those references, and what are some of their symbolic meanings?
  2. In Chapter 4 there is a discussion about whether one can or should separate the quality of art from the character of the artist. “You’re an artist,” Reine-Marie says to Clara. “Do you think a work should be judged by its creator? Or should it stand on its own?” What do you stand on this issue?
  3. How unsettling did you find the murder of a child in the story? Did you feel it was handled with appropriate respect and sensitivity? How does the author deal with the effects of the death on his friends and family?
  4. The painful search for Laurent in the woods is made even more painful by the scene in which the young policemen taunt Gamache. How do you see him at that moment? Does he respond as you’d wish?
  5. Ruth says in Chapter 34,“I was nice once, you know. And kind. Perhaps not the most kind, or the nicest, but it was there.” How do you view her character then and now? What guilt and other demons is she wrestling with?
  6. What do you think of Professor Rosenblatt, Mary Fraser and Sean Delorme? Why do you think they have come to Three Pines, and how does Three Pines look to you through their eyes?
  7. As he struggles with regrets over Laurent, the past and present threat of Fleming, and decisions about his future, what tough choices does Gamache need to make in the course of the story? What do you think of his decisions?
  8. How does Clara evolve from the beginning of the book to the end (and/or, if you have read the previous books, throughout the series)?
  9. How do you view Reine-Marie, both as Armand’s wife and as a character in her own right?
  10. This is the first novel in which Louise has included an historical note. How does the added background affect your view of the story?
  11. How do you interpret the book’s title? Ruth quotes from Yeats’s poem The Second Coming: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.” What is the beast? In the poem? In the book? What do those lines mean to you?
  12. The attractions of Three Pines are clearly immense, but so are its dangers: As Beauvoir says, “Where else would the devil go, but to paradise?” If it were a real place, what do you think it would be like to live there?

Discussion on “Reading Group Guide

  1. Karin Larsen says:

    I feel I am an Official Fan, I have completed all your books. I liked the historical reference added at the end, it’s fascinating to know the seed that grew the story. I also, saw Armand Gamache differently in this story, how he is letting go of a past life with so many mixed feelings, only some he displays. He is portrayed as a man who survived the horrors of his work, but not without consequence. I see his wife’s caution and protection, and wary of what he might do about the big life change.
    I have become very engaged in your process of character development with each novel.
    I want to add, I lost a young daughter. The death of the young boy was a jolt, but the reaction of the parents seemed true, believable. I am glad the father was not responsible, that was bothering me at times, but I trusted your authorship, I did, to manage that if it was to be.
    Thank you for another wonderful reading experience.

  2. Anna says:

    Karin, I see your post is very much to Louise. I hope she reads it. I am sure she would appreciate your comments especially as someone who has lost a child. I feel very much for you. Being a mother, I wasn’t sure I could read about a child dying. I was very glad that and not surprised, that Louise handled it so well. Like you, I trust her authorship.
    The character development is definitely one of Louise’s superior writing skills. I am afraid it has me ruined completely for other authors who do not provide characters with which I can understand and identify.

  3. Julie says:

    Karin – I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. I can imagine that reading about another child’s death, and especially a violent one, would be very upsetting. So many emotions come up when I read the Gamache books. When Louise was in Seattle (even though I couldn’t be there, thankfully, it was recorded, and put up on Youtube), she asked how many people in the audience were in love with Gamache, in response to the interviewer, who asked if she was. I think that we are all a club of people in love with Gamache, but also who esteem him very highly (they don’t always go together). I trust him. I believe he’s real, and I trust him. Of course, that’s really trust in Louise. I don’t think I’ve ever stumbled across a more balanced person – one who knows her faults, has found her ways to deal with them, and along the way, has been able to deal with whatever life is throwing her way. This comes out in her writing. She’s often said that she is Clara, and I always see her in my imagination when I see Clara. I have a very clear image of everyone, though all the others are actors, except for Myrna – for some reason, I’ve made her up out of my mind, or maybe someone I saw somewhere…

    At any rate, I thought that Laurent’s death was handled very well – very respectfully, and very realistically, as far as all the guilt that everyone felt for not believing the boy.

  4. Carol Lee Rees says:

    Thanks so much for #11…WOW…I read it in less than a week…SHOCKING for me. We met in Omaha a year ago at the Book Worm. I told you I was a retired music teacher and wasn’t a reader until I found you. My english teacher friend told you I just hadn’t found the right author…and THAT IS YOU! I so enjoy your characters and the development of the story line…YOU ARE AMAZING!! One question about Book 10. Was the cover done upside down because of the art work that was upside down in the book? Always wanted to know, but forgot to ask you. Thanks again for being an important author in my life.

    When is No.12 coming out? Can’t wait.

    Carol Lee

  5. Hi, to all. Isn’t Louise Penny a wonderful writer and person. She shares her life with us through her newsletters and face book page.

    Some of her readers, myself included, have been fans since Still Life was published.

    The reread of her works before The Long Way Home was published was inspired. Then the discussion of The Long Way Home and then the Bistro site was opened. The Bistro allows readers to keep in touch and continue to discuss Penny’s novels. Inspired by her writing and the way she shares her life, good times and dark times, we also share ours as well as continue discussion of her books.

    We are a very diverse group…We are of different backgrounds, nationalities, education, religion and views on life. All united by our love of Penny’s novels and respect for her. People who catch the most subtle clue all the way to me. I read so rapidly that I miss much in my rush to the end. Of course, that gives me a good “excuse” to reread. We do not always agree on points but we respect differing views.

    We make typos, loose posts( this is the second time I have tried to write this today), omit words and don’t say exactly what we intend to say, me again. Simply put, just a group of people who enjoy a good book and the company of others who enjoy reading too.

    Please, drop by The Bistro read a few posts and join in if and when you wish. No one is expected to share if it is a good or bad day. only if you want too. Because there are so many posts, we usually just reply in the comment section of the most recent page . A reference to the post you are replying to usually keeps everyone on track.

    Just drop in and say “Hi”.

  6. Question # 1 Autumn, falling leaves, crisp air and Apples. The mention of apples and the idea of a surplus of them was a running joke in the first few chapters. The idea of apples in pie, tarts, crisps, salad or my favorite, dumplings, made me want apples. I seldom eat fruit. Isabelle Lacoste was enjoying apple cider, Gamache was given apples when he took Laurent home, Clara took an apple crisp to the LePages and crepes stuffed with apple confit were served at the Bistro. The descriptions of food in LP’s books always makes readers hungry.
    Although apples were abundant, everyone seemed to try to use them and not be wasteful.
    I didn’t think of the “apple” in the context of the story of Adam and Eve. Others did.

  7. Question # 2 It is hard to separate the work from the creator. If a work of art or a play was created by a terrible person, how can one keep the horror of the writer or author from filling the senses ? I would not be able to separate the creator from the creation, even though I may have found much to like if I had not known who the artist or author was.

  8. Question # 4 The scene with the policemen was hard to read. How dare they be so disrespectful and unprofessional. The scene was a masterful stroke by LP to let Gamache, and the reader, learn something he needed to know. All is not well with the Surete. Removing the rot at the top did not address all the deep seated problems. Of course, people were being trained with the wrong ideas….no respect for citizens or those who had been the great members of the Surete before them. I held my breathe and thought “Gestapo”.
    Gamache reacted in character. A less self controlled individual would have reacted with rage. Gamache now knows first hand that there are still matters to be addressed. He has more work to do to mend the prolems in the Surete.

  9. Question # 12 Live in Three Pines? Yes, Yes, Yes. In my mind, I head for Canada with passport in hand. Meeting Armand, Reine Marie, Ruth, Rosa…..Everyone. Dropping by the Bistro and talking with whoever is there while enjoying the wonderful food. Visiting the bookstore, sitting on the Green with Ruth and maybe being allowed to hold Rosa as I once, as a child. held my two pet ducks. Breathing in the clean crisp air. Hugging Henri. Watching the leaves turn their autumn colors and then watching in awe as the very first snowflakes fell and then continued until the ground became white.

    Living in Three Pines, for a time, would be wonderful. Then my heart would yearn for home. The hypnotizing lure of the Deep South would call and with sadness I would hug and kiss my dear friends goodbye and always treasure my time with very special people in a very special village that isn’t shown on maps.

  10. Anna says:

    Question 5: I see Ruth as tired. Third of feeling guilty and angry. Tired of fighting evil or rather tired of being scared that evil is out there. I wonder if she felt incredibly frightened when the gun was found, a real threat to the sanctuary of Three Pines in the way all the other random murders haven’t been. Except perhaps when the fallout of the Arnot case almost destroyed them. She didn’t have quite the spark and prickle that she normally does, it worries me.
    I also wonder if she says Gamache as a saviour in their midst or someone who brings trouble?

  11. Julie says:

    Anna – I think that Ruth IS tired – but perhaps that the tiredness came on suddenly with the death of Laurent, the discovery of the gun, and the upheaval of all she had been trying so hard to keep hidden. I am so very hopeful that now she can begin to heal (better late than never) and while she’ll never be a rosy little grandmotherly type, that some of her demons have now been laid to rest. I’ve worried about Ruth for a long time – that she couldn’t keep up all these defenses forever, and I think that now is the time that they came crashing down around her. If she survives this, she can survive anything! I also think it was wonderful that M. Beliveau was such a good and kind friend to her, understanding and not judging. Ruth has many more people to love than just Rosa, and I hope she gets some time to do it. In my mind, she’s ancient, but of course, there’s some possibility that she’s only about 65, which makes her younger than me, hahaha.

  12. Julie says:

    Barbara – your comments on question 12 were excellent – I agree that now that Gamache has learned what’s going on in the recruitment/training phases in the Surete, I hope it means that he will tackle that in some capacity going forward. But, of course, I also like the idea of him working as a consultant with the UN and being able to go to many different places around the world, solving the world’s problems as he goes. (This is how I see my own role, if only anyone would listen to me, hahaha).

  13. Margot says:

    I have read all this series to date and commend the author for the general character development and plot structure, particularly for the several Canadian historical references. In addition, there are sprinkled about a nimber of lovely pyschological inerpretive gems. Myrna should be developed further, as she is the source of most of these. I was sorry to see that in the film of the first book they cast her as a thin woman instead of the more substantial character that Myrna is in the novels. her physical weight underscores her importance in the dynamic of the village.

    I am, however, fairly astonished at the editing flaws. Many whole sentences of description of a character or of his/her thoughts are used over and over from book to book, as are certain images, e.g. Fear as the last line of a chapter.

    Even more problematic, the milk at the hardware store image is used in both the Rule Against Murder book and the Nature of the Beast (in the play), suggesting that the dead Charles Morrow might also be Fleming (?), the psychopathic author of the play in the latest book, currently residing at the SHU. This does not make sense. Surely an author as clever as Ms Penny could have come up with new images for each book in the description of her characters, thereby letting them exoand a bit in each one… and surely a good editor would have advised against the re-use of the milk-hardware image, which is a variation of the blood from a stone cliche.

    The series is a compelling one and I look forward to the filmed series, I hope it’s to be a series.

  14. Margot says:

    sorry about the typos!
    number
    interpretive
    expand

  15. KB says:

    Question #2 – It is hard to separate an artist’s creation from the artist. It is easy to believe that an artist’s work is an expression of his or her soul: if the work is beautiful and radiates hope, that is the essence of the artist. If the artist is arrogant, demeaning and racist, there can be a sense of betrayal. I can start to doubt my perception of goodness and beauty. That may mean that I try to find the ugliness in the creation. Or I may turn away from the art because I don’t want to support the artist’s actual goals. Or, I could choose to accept that the art itself is beautiful even though the artist is not.

    This question reminded me of the “asshole saint”. Do I reject what might be the one good thing produced by an otherwise spiritually deficient person? And why is this a question when it comes to visual art, music and writing when it isn’t generally a consideration for theatre or movies? Maybe I expect less of actors, so am more accepting of their flaws.

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