Saturday, November 10, 2012

Book Review - Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny

I've been re-reading the entire Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series in anticipation of the eighth novel.  Updating my recollection is only part of the motivation though.  I don't ordinarily re-read much fiction.  I've found Louise Penny's work to be too important for a single run through.  Her novels teach me so much about myself, my flaws and vulnerabilities as well as my strengths, opportunities and potential for joy.  I am certain to read them all a third and fourth time and fully expect to glean more strength, wisdom and insight with each visit.

Some classify Penny's books as cozy mysteries.  They are quite cozy and can certainly be enjoyed as such, but for the contemplative seeker; they can be so very much more.  

This seventh novel is about frailty, about making and living with mistakes.  About living with or even in, the past.  Set in Quebec City, one of my very favorite places, the novel explores the city's past while Gamache and a few other characters explore their own.
     "I sometimes think we're a rowboat society."
     "A what?" asked Jean.
     "A rowboat.  It's why we do that."  He jerked his head toward the window and the dot on the river.  (Someone in a canoe crossing the icy St. Lawrence in a re-enactment race.)  "It's why Quebec is so perfectly preserved.  It's why we're all so fascinated with history.  We're in a rowboat.  We move forward, but we're always looking back."

For them, the past was as alive as the present.  And while forgetting the past might condemn people to repeat it, remembering it too vividly condemned them to never leave.  He was a man who remembered, vividly. 

It happens in societies and it happens with individuals as well.  This story is really three stories in one. Three stories which are so expertly woven together to express the underlying theme as to be utterly astonishing!  Penny's work gets more compelling and amazing with each book.  Gamache makes the perfect hero by being imperfect; by showing us how to deal with our own imperfection.  And by contrasting that with those who are unable to.

     To be silent in hopes of not offending, in hopes of being accepted.
     But what happened to people who never spoke, never raised their voices?  Kept everything inside?
     Gamache knew what happened.  Everything they swallowed, every word, thought, feeling rattled around inside, hollowing the person out.  And into that chasm they stuffed their words, their rage.

      Why was he still investigating the Renaud case?  Was this his private misdirection?  Was he trying to take his mind off something he might otherwise have to see?  And hear? and Feel? Was his whole career like that?  Replacing one ghost with a fresher one?  Racing one step ahead of his memory?

     That was the danger.  Not that betrayals happened, not that cruel things happened, but that they could outweigh all the good.  That we could forget the good and only  remember the bad.

And so we remember.  It is not so much that we remember; but what we choose to remember, and how.

Je me souviens. 


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