Monday, September 5, 2011

Book Review - A Trick Of The Light by Louise Penny

Once again Louse Penny blows my mind with a smash hit!  A Trick of the Light, her seventh in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, has surprised and astonished me.

After seven volumes of her novels, plus a near daily reading of her very candid and personal blog, I feel like I know Louse Penny pretty well.  We've even enjoyed some personal correspondence.  Still, the depth and breadth of her imagination, coupled with the richness of her humanity, leave me stunned every time I finish and reluctantly close one of her books.

I don't spoil novels by even dropping hints about their contents.  This time, though, I'm tempted.  There is so much I would like to tell you.  So much I'd like to entice you with.  As always, I'd like to suggest you go back to the beginning and start with Still Life.  This series is best enjoyed in order.  I know lots of people who've read one or two out of order and say they stand alone just fine.  It may seem so, lacking the big picture.  But the series is becoming more and more, for me, all about the big picture.  About my own big picture.  As if Louse knew me as well as I think I know her.

Now, as I am a Mormon, and as I have a mostly Mormon audience on LIVE AND LEARN; it has come time to talk about the elephant in the room.  This volume is quite abundant in its use of the F-Bomb.  Perhaps I should address this issue separately, but this is the time it matters most for me, so shoulds aside, I'm going to address it now.

I don't like that word.  It curdles my blood.  I wish it never existed.  I rejoice that nothing worse seems to be emerging in it's wake; but as its use becomes ever more common I don't think I'll ever be resigned to hearing or reading it.  I could, and previously have written diatribes about the crude, base, degrading ignorance it represents.

That said, I still recommend this book.  Please be patient and let me tell you why.  There is a reason people use such vile language, perhaps several.  Usually, it is associated with a desperation to be heard.  More and more humanity is crying out for relevance and meaning.  More and more, that desperation has invaded mainstream lives.  When we were in Montreal, a tour guide informed us of the hundreds of empty churches in that once devout city.  It is happening everywhere.  People have cut their moorings and in many cases justifiably so.  Subsequent generations have often never known the blessing of being tied to something stable, reliable.  Myriads are adrift, frustrated, and increasingly desperate for safe harbor, anchorage.

Is it any wonder that desperate to be heard, frustrated, they turn to language that calls attention to their plight?  In my work with fellow addicts I encounter such desperation on a regular basis.  My heart is filled with compassion for them.  The more I listen, really listen to their hearts, the less desperate they become to be heard and the less frequently they lash out with such language.  They are hurting and like the woman in labor, who often says things she would ordinarily not say; I feel to excuse them.

I don't like the F-word, but today it has new meaning for me.  It is no longer the expletive of a scum bag, but a cry for help.  A plea for compassion; which all to often is met with rejection that compounds the agony of the drifting soul who uses it.

Please don't be tempted to judge Louise Penny for sharing, in a frank and poignant way, what I am so feebly trying to express.  I guess she could soft petal the desperation, loneliness and emptiness of which this word is so common a symptom, by somehow toning it down; but then, I for one, would not have learned the lesson.

Louise, herself, is not so crass, nor is Chief Inspector Gamache.  I take comfort in that.  It gives me comfort that neither she nor her protagonist are adrift and that their example and centeredness are so juxtaposed to the other that we can see, and so, want what they have.

There is a difference between prudence and prudishness.  If you choose the former, you will love this book (The previous volumes are not nearly so full of such language.  This one is.  For a reason.)  If you choose the latter, you won't benefit from the story either, probably.

A Trick Of The Light is about contrasts, about opposition, about light amid darkness.  If you refuse to consider the darkness, you'll hardly appreciate the light.

A Trick Of The Light is about honesty, about the truths and lies we tell ourselves, and others.  It is about truth's effect on relationships.  Truth is I am better and more honest with myself for having read this important book.

Way to go Louise.  A Trick of the Light is your best yet.  Bury Your Dead is still my favorite.  But this one is certainly your best.

Five glorious Stars

My review of Louise Penny's Bury Your Dead.

4 comments:

Mindy said...

I enjoy reading your thoughts. I might give this series a try. :) Thanks!

Booklogged said...

Excellent review, Myke. I agree about the f-word. It's terribly offensive but I think in this book it helps depict the cry for help. So helpful in recognizing that cry from people we meet in real life. Another theme, besides light and contrasts, is forgiveness. Louise Penny is my favorite author.

Jane said...

I can't wait to read this one.
I've read read them all and love the Insector Gamache series.

Kay said...

This was an excellent review of A TRICK OF THE LIGHT, Myke. I'm in total agreement with all you said except that with each book, I have a new favorite Penny novel. For me, this book was about addiction and redemption and all the myriad of ways those two things can present. If you read Louise's blog, you know that once a year, she speaks of her own journey there. I think this book came from some deep place inside her and she trusted all of us to show her vulnerability in that regard. She knows of what she speaks.

I also loved your comment about the whole of the series and the big picture. I agree and think we have much, much more to learn about these characters - all of the characters.

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