Tuesday, 30 June 2015
The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
Huh. Clever. I noticed that the cover image was upside down before I started reading it, but it never occurred to me while I was reading the book. It's only now that I'm grabbing an image to use for this review that I realize why it's upside down. Very appropriate.
So, Gamache has retired! He lives in Three Pines now, with Reine-Marie, and Henri the dog, and heals from a gunshot wound and from everything that led him to the end of the last book. The big question is not, will Gamache take up a case again. It's whether or not the book after Louise Penny tied together all of the loose strings of the overarching mystery in virtuous and heartbreaking form could possibly live up to the masterpiece that was How the Light Gets In.
The answer appears to be, yes and no. Yes, this is a wonderful book, as always. It's a wonderful mystery. It's a wonderful character study. She understands pain as few authors do, period, let alone manage to bring that effortlessly into a mystery novel. On the other hand, it's possible nothing could have topped a book like the last one, and I'm not sure Penny is trying. That's probably wise. Still, I missed that slow burn of the long plot.
Penny has wisely focused this down to a more domestic story. Several books ago, Peter left. The arrangement was that he'd come back in a year, and then he and Clara would see if there was anything left of their marriage. The day came, and went, and not only was there no Peter, there was no word. At all. Clara becomes worried about it, although sure he's out there somewhere. Gamache fears that perhaps Peter became despondent out there, away from the cocoon of Three Pines. He and Beauvoir help Clara and Myrna try to track Peter's journey once he left.
It goes strange places, and seems to show a man in search of a different artistic soul than the one he had honed into technically amazing but safe paintings, to be outstripped by a wife who dared more and eventually reaped greater success.
More than that I will not say, about the main plot, except that it was a physical challenge not to flip to the end and find out if Peter was all right. I managed to hold out until about the 2/3rd mark, which may be some kind of record for me. (I'm not recommending this, mind, I'm just saying.)
What struck me the most, in addition to the things that always strike me about Louise Penny books, was one particular theme. When Clara comes to Gamache for help, he is reminded that he could say no. He's retired. He'd been shot. Emotionally, he is still fragile as well. And he says something that hit me with a ton of bricks. Paraphrasing greatly, and possibly changed by my days of thinking about it, he says that if it's a recovery that depends on becoming entirely focused on himself, on rejecting all sense of community and obligation to each other, then it's not much of recovery at all.
That was very powerful for me. I know that recovering from difficult times often needs a time of self-absorption, but sometimes it feels like people get stuck there, that they decide that now they're taking care of themselves, they only need to take care of themselves, and stay in that place. Gamache is wise and strong enough to recognize that, even fragile, we are part of the world we inhabit. And while saying no to some things is a part of healing, so is saying yes, I will help you.
So, while this wasn't the tearfest that How the Light Gets In reduced me to, particularly Beauvoir and Rosa the duck in his car, I am not disappointed. I miss the overarching story, but this was a smaller story, delicately told, and I come out of it again feeling like she has been able to put words to fragile human experiences that I haven't seen depicted on the page again.