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Bury Your Dead, A Trick of the Light, The Beautiful Mystery, How the Light Gets In, Louise Penny

October 19, 2020

I’ve continued to be entertained by Louise Penny mysteries in my spare time, and when I finished reading How the Light Gets In I had to pause and write about them again, as this ninth one is my favorite so far.

I was interested–and kind of appalled–to learn that in old Quebec City people walk in the middle of the street during the winter, for fear of snow and ice falling from the rooftops:
“Every winter roofs did collapse and every winter snow and ice slid off to the sidewalk below, crushing unfortunate pedestrians. There was a sound sliding ice made, a sound like no other, a cross between a slow, deep moan and a shriek. Every Quebecois knew it, like buzz bombs in the Blitz.
But hearing it, and being able to do anything were two different things. The sound echoed off the old stone buildings, disguising location. It might be right above you, or it might be streets away.
True Quebecois walked in the middle of the road. Tourists often thought the Quebecois gracious, to cede the sidewalk to them, until the sound began.”

I was also amazed and appalled by a passage where two old ladies “walked cautiously over the path of hardened snow, planting their feet firmly and carefully. Watching their own steps, watching each other’s.” It’s hard to believe people would continue to live in a place where “in winter the very ground seemed to reach up and grab the elderly, yanking them to earth as though hungry for them. Shattering a hip or wrist, or neck.”

A reader can pick up some French from reading these books; I was frequently amused by the connotations of the cognates, like that “desole” means “sorry,” but it always sounds like the French-speakers are absolutely desolate, and that a bookstore is called a “Librairie,” a cognate that another English-speaker, the character Ruth, also makes much of.

I learned more about the clash between English and French speaking people in Quebec City. It’s a little hard for me to imagine living in a place where part of the population speaks a different language and not learning that language, but it happens, and it produces some good comedy in Bury Your Dead. I particularly like the moment when an English-speaking librarian comes in and politely tries to speak French to investigating officers, informing them:
“that the night was indeed a strawberry, but added that the English were good pumpkins and that the library had a particularly impressive section on mattresses and mattress warfare.
‘In fact,’ she turned to Gamache. ‘I think that’s an area you’re interested in.’
‘It is, he admitted, to the surprise of both Langlois and his assistant. After Winnie left, saying she had to launch a new line of doorknobs, Gamache explained.
‘She meant “naval,” not “mattress”.’
‘Really?’ asked the assistant, who’d made notes but had decided to burn them in case anyone thought he was stoned when he’d taken them down.”

The dinner parties and conversations between the characters in Three Pines are are always fun to read about. I enjoyed this exchange over dessert at Clara’s house:
“Gabri took Olivier’s trifle out of the fridge, with its layers of ladyfingers, custard, fresh whipped cream and brandy-infused jam.
‘The love that dares not speak its name,’ Gabri whispered as he cradled it in his arms.
‘How many calories, do you think?’ asked Clara.
‘Don’t ask,’ said Olivier.
‘Don’t tell,’ said Myrna.”

I didn’t like Ruth until I got to the ninth book, but her character slowly grew on me. From throw-away characterizations like “Ruth was trying to stone the birds” (in the 7th book), the narrator gradually reveals more of her story until I did learn to like her, at the moment she gives her pet duck to Jean-Guy.

Especially during a week when my elected congressional representative admitted that he had attempted to post false information on Facebook, it was comforting in that “misery loves company” way to hear Gamache, Penny’s fictional detective, say that “corruption and brutality are modeled and expected and rewarded. It becomes normal. And anyone who stands up to it, who tells them it’s wrong, is beaten down.”

These mystery novels are making my days easier to get through, along with the tea for four we hosted this weekend, out on our porch and deck. What is making your days easier?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2020 6:57 am

    After reading Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather I had to make a pilgrimage to Quebec City. It wasn’t in the winter though! It would be quite daunting then I imagine. I’ll stick to literary visits (the Penny books do sound really good).

    • October 20, 2020 11:57 am

      Yes, I think a visit in the winter would be impossible for me; I would be terrified of driving and would be unable to walk.
      I do find that these are really good escapist books for this fall.

  2. October 19, 2020 7:56 am

    That looks like a gorgeous spread for tea! What’s making my days easier is the few successful purchases I’ve made recently — some gorgeous stationery and a used Kindle — as well as the slightly cooler weather that’s making my morning walks more pleasant.

    • October 20, 2020 12:00 pm

      The cooler weather is making continued use of our porch more difficult, although still possible. It was too chilly to sit outside for tea, really, but we did it anyway.

  3. PAJ permalink
    October 19, 2020 9:01 am

    One doesn’t have to travel to Canada to encounter the falling ice/snow in cities. Chicago has such recorded deaths.
    Staying busy is making my days easier. There’s so much uncertainty right now that having physical tasks to do keeps me occupied so that I don’t collapse into a heap of worry.

    • October 20, 2020 12:02 pm

      I’m glad I didn’t know that about Chicago. Now I may never go back (since my brother has moved to Dallas).
      Staying busy may be almost as good as reading escapist books.

  4. October 19, 2020 2:32 pm

    Yummy-looking spread!

    Hmm… what’s making my days easier? Observing/walking in nature. Our October has been incredibly lovely so far. Enjoying our Halloween decorations – the lights at night especially. Watching new episodes of Great British Baking Show. Chocolate! I’m latching on to anything joyful/funny/whimsical these days.

    • October 20, 2020 12:05 pm

      I’m looking for the joyful, funny, or whimsical. It has been a lovely October here, too, but the last few days have been very dark and rainy and I’m reluctant to face what comes next.

  5. October 20, 2020 10:25 pm

    This setting sounds horrifying, indeed! It feels even more cold and dread-ful because of her matter-of-fact tone. I can practically hear her sinisterly quiet voice telling me I’m about to be crushed.

    Scented bubble baths have been helping. Lavender and grape soda are my favorites, so far.

    • October 21, 2020 9:55 pm

      Bubble baths sound nice. I love to be in any kind of water, but it’s been kind of a dry spell here lately.
      Grape soda sounds like it could be a very cheery smell, kind of like carnivals and birthday parties for five-year-olds.

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