Tag Archives: Louise Penny

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

Still Life: Charming

     

Set in a quaint Quebecois village, Louise Penny’s Still Life narrates the murder and murder investigation of the beloved town resident, Jane Neal. Of the books I’ve read so far in “Spies and Detectives,” Still Life most closely aligns with what I’ve always imagined as a classic “whodunnit”: the gradual introduction of a cast of characters and their possible motives, the inclusion of red herrings, and a measured and generous chief investigator.  To the mix Still Life adds the sub-plots of negotiating queer identity in a small town, young people struggling to find self-acceptance and self-worth, and the assurance offered by a good cup of tea. Okay, not really a good cup of tea, but rather, the tensions of French-English loyalties in (rural) Quebec.

I enjoyed the book a great deal for its mystery – trying to work out the killer, putting the book down so I could puzzle out new clues and then reading oh-so-rapidly so that I might find out who really did it, the surprise and delight of an ending I hadn’t expected, but still believed – but I also enjoyed it for its unabashed Canadian setting. The chief inspector drinks Tim Hortons coffee, the townspeople debate Quebecois language laws, the second in command argues against the displacement of indigenous people from the Montreal area, even Margaret Atwood has a (dubious) cameo! I like these things not simply because I’m a Canadianphile, but because they contributed to a convincing setting both in time and place, that allowed the crime, the townspeople, and the investigators to read not as characters easily cut-out of yet another mystery novel, but as products and contributors of a singular set of circumstances. No surprise then that Penny’s novels – Still Life is the first in what is now the “Inspector Gamache” series – are as wildly popular as any Canadian mystery series can be said to be wildly popular. If it’s any confirmation of worth, I’m planning to read another in the series come January.

Leave a comment

Filed under 100 Books of 2011, Canadian Literature, Fiction, Mystery