Tag Archives: Louise Penny

Louise Penny x Three; Or, Send me Suggestions of What to Read (When grossly overtired)

Folks. I decided I wasn’t distracted enough from reading by the Burning of the World and so I went and had a(nother) baby. And *now* I remember a new kind of distraction. The sort where earnest efforts for ‘an hour of concentrated deep reading’ are laughable, and the most comfortable way to read is holding a phone (because one hand) that is constantly dinging and vibrating to let me know that someone out there wants to get in touch, or that another catastrophe is upon us. And you’ll recall I’d already decided to let this be a summer of reading I can or want to read, rather than any ideas of what I should read.

And so I read three Louise Penny novels back-to-back A Better Man, The Nature of the Beast and The Long Way Home and I have to say that reading three in sequence is Not a Good Idea as this reader realized that there are only so many times a protagonist can be described as having ‘kind eyes’ before you lose patience, and only so many brie and pear sandwiches before you begin to wonder about cholesterol levels. Maybe it was a problem of reading the books out of sequence, but I also had a hard time keeping track of why some of the secondary characters were doing what they were doing (why was Clara mourning her husband? did he die? or leave her? or both?). Not that we’re ever meant to have a strong connection with these secondary characters, they are all parodies of themselves, and all hopelessly generous and thoughtful in an entirely out-of-time-and-place way.

Which is not to say I didn’t have a good time reading the books. I did. Just with diminishing returns and rapidly declining interest (which may or may not have correlation with increased time spent awake in the middle of the night and a choice between reading and showering or eating – which, let’s be clear, you can read and eat at the same time, so why would any one bother with showering?).

All this to say I think I’ll be taking a break from Louise Penny for the foreseeable future. I just got A Little Life back out from the library, and maybe re-reading that will prove focusing. Or I’ll be back here in a week telling you about the magazine I read. Whatever else I need to stop refreshing my news apps and checking Twitter because I promise there’s nothing comforting or enjoyably distracting about that at any time of day. Or, of course, you can send me your recommendations for what to read when you are grossly overtired and despair for the world. And are addicted to news apps and podcasts and should really, really, just. stop.

2 Comments

Filed under Fiction

Several Missed Attempts, then Louise Penny: How I read Now

Some libraries are reporting the genres most read during this Moment, and no surprise mysteries and romances (along with kids books) are coming out on top. Something about an escape? Or a tidy resolution? Or a distance from reality? Whatever the reason, it’s holding true for me, too.

I tried – resolutely – to read More Serious things. I read 200 pages of Alice Munro’s For the Love of a Good Woman before giving up because while it was excellent writing and masterful storytelling, it was also too far removed. I started to think ‘inconsequential,’ but that’s not it – Munro’s stories do the genius thing of taking the particular individual and demonstrating how absolutely consequential one person, one action, one choice can be. More that the collection was so gentle in its context: small towns where gossip and betrayal were/are the worst there is to imagine.

So I pivoted. I thought I’d try another pandemic, in another not-so-distant time: AIDS under Thatcher in Alan Hollinghurt’s 2004 Booker Prize winner The Line of Beauty. Again I committed about 250 pages (which was only about half) to this read, continuing to hope that the protagonist, plot or context would become compelling but… no. Something to be said for how HIV/AIDS hangs in the background, unnamed for the first 250 pages I read, but lurking for the reader in the present. Something marginally interesting in the relationship between the protagonist and his host family (he rents a room in the mansion of a Conservative MP), but in the end, neither protagonist or plot did much to inspire concentration or interest.

One more attempt in the form of Isabelle Allende’s City of the Beasts and here I didn’t make it past page 10.

So I gave in/gave up/admitted that what I most wanted to read was Louise Penny. I picked up How the Light Gets In and I read it in a day. Turns out that when the genre is distracting and absorbing and distant, I can still read. Phew.

And I want to read because despite my distraction, reading is mindful activity for me. Forget the hundreds of apps encouraging meditation, or the articles espousing focus and deliberate engagement with media, for me all I’ve ever wanted and needed for mindful activity is a book. To be fair, lately I’ve had to be sure to put my phone in another room, and I’ve never been able to read on a tablet or laptop as the lure of the Internets is too much for me, even with a great book. But put a physical book in my hands and I can – at least with the Not So Serious but Seriously Enjoyable – take myself away in moments of focus and calm.

So yes. I expect you’ll be Judging Me for what I read this summer. I’m just going to read what feels good instead of what I think I should enjoy, and what I very much do enjoy in other times. And I’m okay with it. For now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Mystery

A (Book) Flurry of Reading: Mrs. Everything, Normal People, A Better Man

It must have been the guilt of my last post, but I’ve done marginally better at turning down my social media and turning up novels. It helped that small human spent a weekend at the grandparents, but I read three novels (okay, part of it is in a mad dash to hit minimum acceptable book total for 2019…). Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction

Louise Penny: Masculinity FTW

I did a lot of reading this summer. The bulk of that reading was Louise Penny novels, and so rather than write one post after the other about Inspector Gamache and descriptions of Quebecois cheese, I’m writing this one post, and it’s fine, because the novels are all the same: a pleasant romp through a picturesque Quebec countryside with characters that make you hope for a better world, even while murder abounds and threats of Darkness loom. I also read a lot of recipe books – many featuring the Instant Pot – of which I will not bore you.

I read The Murder StoneA Great Reckoning and Glass Houses. My mum rightly pointed out that I’ve done myself a disservice in reading out of order, but let’s be clear that I’m not likely to ever go back and read the others, so finding out that one of the detectives has a drug problem after he’s been to NA and gotten married to Gamache’s daughter hardly ruins the thread for future reading.

So right. If you’ve not encountered Louise Penny here’s the thrust: her novels win heaps of awards. People love them. There are organized bus tours to the town where Penny lives so that people can visit the cafe featured in the novel. They’re incredibly enjoyable while you’re reading them, something entirely comforting like so many wool sweaters and mugs of tea. Inspector Gamache has cult followings who want to know where he ‘actually’ lives (my beliefs about Gilbert Blythe notwithstanding, fictional characters only live in the mind).

So what’s the deal? My guess is that people (and me while I’m reading them) like the security of a man who is kind and who exemplifies the tropes of a gentlemen-masculinity that are all laughable in reality. We want to believe that men can be kind, brave and stand up for principles and values amid a world of corruption, greed, lust and those other sins. Despite All the Evidence to the contrary, and more importantly, despite the reality that no one ever needed men to be the bastions of honour in the first place, Gamache is an irresistible character because of these qualities. We swoon at the idea of a kind and noble man who occupies a place of power because there are so few examples in reality.

I’m not advancing a novel argument here. I’m sure anyone reading the books would come to the same conclusion. That it’s as much the attraction to Gamache and his pastoral perfect life as it is the mystery around the murder that keeps us reading. We want to be close to a life of comfortable chairs, exquisite food (though the descriptions of food are something distracting – like I have to get up and make bread and cheese before I can keep reading) and totalizing romance because such a place and such people are all but impossible to find in the world we occupy. Utter wish fulfillment.

So it’s something of a rude awakening to come back to 2019 and recall the moment we are in. The responsibilities of being flawed after spending so many hours with the flawless is taxing. It almost makes me want to read non-fiction. Almost.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Bestseller, Fiction, Mystery, Prize Winner