Monday, October 04, 2010

Notes: Louise Penny in Vermont

Louise Penny in V
It's cold up here -- but the "killing frost" held off last night, by a couple of degrees. The thermometer said 30ºF, but the plant leaves looked fine, even the ones that I didn't have enough sheets and blankets to cover. Whew!

So we headed down the highway, nicely bundled up in jackets, but without the gloves, hats, and scarves that will soon be part of daily life. The Norwich Inn, less than an hour south, was our destination -- where a luncheon for Louise Penny was hosted by the Norwich Bookstore. Tasty tidbits reached us a few minutes before Penny began to speak about her new book, Bury Your Dead. That is, she mostly didn't speak about it, because it is so tightly tied to the preceding volume (The Brutal Telling) and so tightly plotted that almost any discussion of it risked being a spoiler for the 50 or so readers munching their salads. So Penny read from a couple of sections in the new book where Chief Inspector Gamache is thinking about Quebec and Canadian history -- particularly the still mysterious disappearance of the body of explorer Samuel de Champlain. Penny elaborated on how frustrating the absence of this historical corpse is, "translating" for her American guests: "I mean, can you imagine you guys losing Washington?"

In response to an audience question about the way these two recent books are linked, Penny admitted, "When I started [The Brutal Telling], I knew exactly what these two books would be." Then she drew gasps from the crowd by adding matter-of-factly, "And I know what the next three books will be."

Emphasizing, as she usually does in person, that her books are not "about murder" but about valuing life, in all its complexity of sorrow, loss, and redemption as well as joy, Penny explained: "I tried to write a book every decade of my life until I was well into my forties. And I think the trouble was, I was too inexperienced -- and callow." As the books finally blossomed in her mid forties, she felt that the gift had required a specific kind of experience in her own life: to be hurt enough to learn compassion and empathy, and to know what intolerance and loneliness feel like.

That fits well with the gift Penny recently gave to "Good Reads," a Canadian literacy group. This best-selling author presented the group with an 80-page novella, The Hangman, to use as both a strong story for new readers (not children, but teens or adults), and to generate funds for the group's work.

Dave and I love such small treasures, and this story is a good read -- Chief Inspector Armand Gamache applies his understanding of human nature to an apparent suicide by hanging, as well as to a related note left behind, and finds his way to the solution of a murderous crime. Told in short, direct sentences, The Hangman makes it clear that compassion and caring are vital assets of a good detective.

We've added signed copies of The Brutal Telling, Bury Your Dead, and The Hangman to our listings on Here's a link to find them. I'll update it now and then.

What a gift to spend time listening to this warm, creative, and intelligent author.

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