Review: Glass Houses by Louise Penny

33602101Glass Houses is one of Louise Penny’s best novels in her Armand Gamache series. What drew me to the first book I picked up (A Great Reckoning) was the distinct humanness of all her characters, but in particular, Gamache.

Oftentimes I feel that protagonists lack a bit of humanity. Something is missing, not large, but enough to elevate them above an average human. (At least, that’s what’s happening in the books I’m reading.) They are often characters we can aspire towards or admire. But they are never quite vulnerable enough to make me think deeply.

The quality that elevates Gamache over the host of other characters I’ve gotten know across many, many books is his vulnerability. Penny crafts a character who is at the same time thoughtful, brilliant, and kind with one who is flawed, who doubts himself and his choices, and is at times haunted by his past. Gamache is someone we can both aspire to be and relate to, because he faces his troubles with an unnerving honesty, clarity, and transparency.

All of these qualities were highlighted to their full extent in Penny’s most recent novel, with an interesting delivery. Glass Houses brings us back to three pines with the murder of a mysterious figure. Penny uses flashback to weave the past and present, bringing the reader from the trial in the courtroom to the investigation in the village. Far from being confusing, the back-and-forth gave clarity to both plots. The murder is one, but there is a (slightly) lesser sub-plot with Gamache, now the new head of the Sûreté du Québec, and his new task force working on an operation to bring down the bourgeoning drug trade in the city. We soon find that the murder and the operation are more closely intertwined than could have been imagined, inviting some delightful and unexpected twists that make the novel a page-turner. (I’ve been known to marathon Penny’s books, not sleeping ’till I’ve finished!)

With decisions that toe the line at morality, Penny puts beloved characters in the interesting position of potentially being portrayed as “the bad guy.” The situations ask the reader to question right from wrong, and at what point power is abused. Speaking poignantly to present issues, Penny’s novel questions how we define what is moral and the authority and integrity of the judicial system.

 

Review: A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

352921Words are perhaps the most powerful weapon humans can wield against each other. They give us the power to love, to hate, to profoundly alter someone’s reality.

In A Fatal Grace, Louise Penny explores the potency of words to craft our own realities, kill others’, and the the brutal consequences of love denied.

As part of the Armand Gamache series, Penny brings the reader back to the quiet village of Three Pines with the murder of CC de Poitiers. The woman has been found, electrocuted, on a frozen lake during a curling match. The culprit may seem surprising, but after reflection, there could be few other suspects.

CC de Poitiers is quite despicable from the first chapter. Vain, self-absorbed, and extremely cruel, she is one of the most nasty character’s I’ve encountered in Penny’s novels. CC has the unpleasant side affect of making those around her nasty, too, and at worse, making them feel like utter garbage.

She lives in her own world; anything she does not like or that does not fit is not a part of her reality. Words are key. The illegitimate daughter of a now homeless vagrant, CC crafts for herself a new identity as the daughter of Eleanor d’Aquitaine, also called Eleanor de Poitiers. In this new reality, she becomes somewhat of a princess in her mind, and words are so important she marries a man for his name: Richard Lyon, a play on Richard the Lionhearted, son of Eleanor d’Aquitaine.

The most central element in the chaos and subplots that ensue is CC’s verbal abuse of her daughter, Crie. Crie– desperately overweight, beaten down by her mother, withdrawn to her self– has a brilliant mind, gifted in science. But no matter how smart, how graceful she tries to be, it is not enough to earn her mother’s regard. Love is out of the question. Crie is a blemish on the world CC has constructed for herself.

When we are so alienating, so cruel, so senseless, it is foolish to expect that there will be no retaliation. Each person has constructed their own reality, banishing those who threaten their security. And sometimes, this fatal grace is the most merciful action.

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{Review} The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

6449551If you’ll recall, I sped-read Louise Penny’s A Great Reckoning during spring semester in order to write an arts review for class. Since then, I had tucked her away in my mind with a note to read more of her books.

While perusing the table of books at Costco a couple weeks ago, as I am wont to do, I stumbled across her again, and being my very cheap self, took a photo of the cover as a reminder to borrow it from the library. The Brutal Telling is the fifth book in Penny’s  Armand Gamache series, and A Great Reckoning the most recent. In fact checking that statement, I just discovered that a new Gamache novel, Glass Houses, will be published in August!

While only my second Inspector Gamache novel, I can already tell that Penny has a penchant for incorporating themes of secrets, truth, and façades. I admire the consistency, and she does it well, all whilst weaving in minor themes, notes, and commentary that, although not the focus, draw an acute attention to themselves.

The discovery of a body in Olivier’s bistro in Three Pines, Quebec rattles the tiny, welcoming village. Instantly, all are plunged into an unfamiliar world of secrets and brutality. As the blame constantly shifts and lies create a façade, it seems that more questions will be created than answered. It begs the question of what is more dangerous: the truth, or the comfortable walls that conceal it?

As the case drags out, Olivier’s past is unearth in a brutal telling, revealing an insecure, greedy man hidden behind the generous, well-loved bistro owner the villagers have come to adore. But, while his secrets are revealed, the process also raises an important question about how we love: conditionally or unconditionally? Do we have the power, or more importantly, the will, to love unconditionally? What are the boundaries? How far will we go when we feel someone we love has betrayed our trust?

All the while, Clara’s about to receive the artistic recognition of her dreams…until her agent makes an ugly remark about her friend, Gabri, Olivier’s partner. As Clara wrestles with her conscience and swings between silence, safety, and acceptance; and courage, risk, and dignity; she must decide how important it is to stand up for friends and family. Is it worth sacrificing her dream to defend her friends and stand up for what she believes is right?

And, remarkably, there is the entrance of a rookie Sûreté agent, Paul Morin, whose courage, gusto, and willingness prove to us that there is much more than what meets the eye. Sometimes, we must stand out from the crowd, withstand the ridicule, and put ourselves out there. If we want our dreams badly enough, we will weather the judgement, the laughter, and sometimes, disdain to prove ourselves and take the risk. In Inspector Gamache, he continues to testify to the power of kindness to strangers, colleagues, and friends.

In regards to A Great ReckoningThe Brutal Telling was lacking somewhat in character development. We see the struggles of Olivier, Clara, Peter, and others, but few come to favorable resolutions, if any at all. Instead, the issues are suspended, perhaps to be continued in the next book, perhaps to be laid to rest.