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Old 11-15-2020, 02:39 AM   #1
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Still Life by Louise Penny

It's time to discuss our book for November, Still Life by Louise Penny



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The CWA Dagger-winning first novel from worldwide phenomenon and number one New York Times bestseller Louise Penny, introducing Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

The discovery of a dead body in the woods on Thanksgiving Weekend brings Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his colleagues from the Surete du Quebec to a small village in the Eastern Townships. Gamache cannot understand why anyone would want to deliberately kill well-loved artist Jane Neal, especially any of the residents of Three Pines - a place so free from crime it doesn't even have its own police force.

But Gamache knows that evil is lurking somewhere behind the white picket fences and that, if he watches closely enough, Three Pines will start to give up its dark secrets...
So, what did everyone think?

Reminder: This discussion is open to ALL MobileRead members, regardless of whether they participated in the nomination or voting. However, we do, emphatically, ask that you follow the basic rule of expressing your opinions of the book in a collegial manner, and that you refrain from personal comments but stick to the book at hand. Thank you, and welcome!

Please note that this is the final month I will be facilitating the New Leaf Book Club. I want to personally thank issybird for helping start this, and facilitating before me. And I want to thank each and every one of you, the people who came here every month (or most of them, anyway), read the books, discussed them, and helped make this a community that I was proud to be a part of.

Sadly, unless someone else takes it over, we'll just fade away into the night. While, of course, making sure we have a good book with us! Because, after all, this has been a club of readers, and whether we're meeting here or not, we'll always be reading.

Thank you!
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Old 11-15-2020, 03:03 PM   #2
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I first read this book in hardback when it came out in 2005, a year after we first moved to Canada. I loved it then, and I still love it now. The texture of Three Pines is both vivid and subtle, but very much a part of what makes this book special. Gamache is the kind of detective I quite like -- a bit cerebral, but nurturing of new subordinates, even the hopelessly insecure and brittle Agent Yvette Nichol.

Given that the series (now at 16 books) is as much about Three Pines as it is about Chief Inspector Gamache, I do find the following a bit unreal. Of course, this is only said before the crime wave that Gamache brings to the village.
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In the twenty-five years she’d lived in Three Pines she’d never, ever heard of a crime. The only reason doors were locked was to prevent neighbors from dropping off baskets of zucchini at harvest time.
One thing that is different now on a re-read is that I'm much more in tune to the "Two Solitudes" of Canada, and especially of Quebec. We moved here 9 years after the _very_ close Quebec Independence Referendum of 1995, but were rather isolated from it by living on the west coast of British Columbia, which is one of the lease Francophone provinces. This friction is very evident in Still Life, even though Gamache is fluently bilingual and appears equally comfortable in either French or English. The book itself includes many uniquely Canadian terms, such as depanneur, which "roughly" equates to the American "7-eleven" kind of store, or the NYC bodega.
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Old 11-15-2020, 03:45 PM   #3
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Thanks to you, Charlie, for taking over. I was delighted that the club had renewed energy for a while, and as for its demise, I think it probably couldn’t go on forever. That said, once the dust settles, I’d like to think that there would be a place for a less formal book club, something along the lines of a glorified group read on occasion. If that appeals to anyone, keep it in mind. In any case, I feel as if the NLBC had an excellent run.

And, I can’t resist, although perhaps I should.

When Still Life was chosen, I thought I’d read it and participate in the discussion. The series was always on my horizon and I’d picked up the book as a freebie at some point. But, I’ll digress a bit, I think I’d have been better served in the manner I’d discover a mystery series back in the old days. I’d run across a book on the new shelves at the library and read it and if I’d liked it, I’d go back and read the earlier ones (if the library had them). And then I’d watch for subsequent ones and eventually get tired of the series in most cases, but that was fine. In short, I think some series are best served [JSWolf, look away] by not starting with the first one. Give the author a chance to work out the kinks, settle into it, and win you over a few books in, at which point you’d happily read the earlier one(s) for background.

I think my digression indicates that I didn’t care for this and I abandoned it early, even before Gamache showed up. Perhaps he’d have charmed me. But I was so turned off by the twee town of Stars Hollow Three Pines and its stock characters (a gay couple who runs a B&B cum antiques shop!) and lame dialogue that I couldn’t force myself to continue. This was compounded by the very irritating way Penny jumped around in the various characters’ heads and while I can’t know this, I suspect that the eventual murderer might be deduced by the absence of such inner commentary.

It’s a pity in a way, as I think such a very popular series has to be much better than this first book. Or, it just might not be to my taste. But I’d feel as if I’d given it a better shot by starting a little later; however, I probably won’t bother.
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Old 11-15-2020, 11:50 PM   #4
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I’d like to think that there would be a place for a less formal book club, something along the lines of a glorified group read on occasion. If that appeals to anyone, keep it in mind.
It appeals to me - I have hesitated to get involved because of feeling a bit intimidated by the structure of the clubs, and the erudition of the members.

As for Still Life, your concerns nicely sum up why I always try to give new series 2-3 books, to see if the author develops a voice that interests me. Penny did, although I do find the series wildly uneven in quality and appeal.
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Old 11-16-2020, 01:09 AM   #5
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I'm sorry you quit as early as you did, issybird. And I agree, the town does seem stunningly twee. But, you know, I LIVE in a twee and cliche kind of place where I don't ever lock my doors (though I'm tempted when my neighbour is trying to unload his corgettes), so I can't really hold it against Penny. And yes, the bistro couple are multiple cliches. But that misses my 2 solitudes comment completely, because the parts highlighting that don't even start until after Gamache appears.

That being said, the ongoing character of Agent Yvette Nichol is probably my least favourite aspect of the series. For one thing, I'm sick to death of the "insecure female" meme. And for another, she's just a really annoying character.
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Old 11-16-2020, 04:47 AM   #6
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I DNFed the book before Gamache Appeared as well. This technically counts as a reread, but I got the same nasty impression and got depressed using it. It reminds me of the postmodernist side of French Cinema. Gamache can never equal Marple, or Poirot for that matter.
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Old 11-16-2020, 04:53 AM   #7
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Gamache can never equal Marple, or Poirot for that matter.
That's a bit like saying salt can never equal sugar, or that Holmes can never equal Marlowe. Nothing about the series is Golden Age style, there's no similarity intended or attempted. I'm far from an uncritical fan of Penny's work, several I barely finished, but when she gets it right the results are good, and stand as they were intended to, not measured against books of a different era, genre, and culture.
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Old 11-16-2020, 06:13 AM   #8
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I agree, that's like saying salt can never equal sugar. You learn fast.
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Old 11-16-2020, 07:02 AM   #9
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I agree, that's like saying salt can never equal sugar. You learn fast.
No, I don't. Or, you're deliberately choosing to misunderstand my point. Penny's books have nothing in common with Christie's Golden Age mysteries, so saying that they are not the equal thereof is pointless. The handful of Penny's books that really shone have psychological insights and character motivations that Christie never even came close to, making it equally valid to say that Poirot and Marple can never equal Gamache. Equally pointless too.
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Old 11-16-2020, 07:09 AM   #10
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In my personal opinion, if Christie were paid by word count, and if she wrote from inside the heads of her characters, she would be Penny in essence, a harrowing prospect. Enjoy your Gamache books, and I'll enjoy my Poirot books.
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Old 11-16-2020, 08:01 AM   #11
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It appeals to me - I have hesitated to get involved because of feeling a bit intimidated by the structure of the clubs, and the erudition of the members.
Maybe after the new year once we’re past the holiday season? (Perhaps we could do a Wodehouse. ) People should always feel free to suggest a group read.

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As for Still Life, your concerns nicely sum up why I always try to give new series 2-3 books, to see if the author develops a voice that interests me. Penny did, although I do find the series wildly uneven in quality and appeal.
It’s a combination of impatience, life being too short and so many books to read, but I couldn’t give an author so much scope to improve. What I did do when I hit the wall was check the reviews on Goodreads to see if I should muscle through. While the book is very highly rated, those who didn’t like it, didn’t like it for the same reasons I didn’t, and I took that as sufficient reason to give up, but I admit that’s totally confirmation bias!

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I'm sorry you quit as early as you did, issybird. And I agree, the town does seem stunningly twee. But, you know, I LIVE in a twee and cliche kind of place where I don't ever lock my doors (though I'm tempted when my neighbour is trying to unload his corgettes), so I can't really hold it against Penny. And yes, the bistro couple are multiple cliches. But that misses my 2 solitudes comment completely, because the parts highlighting that don't even start until after Gamache appears.

That being said, the ongoing character of Agent Yvette Nichol is probably my least favourite aspect of the series. For one thing, I'm sick to death of the "insecure female" meme. And for another, she's just a really annoying character.
I don’t lock my doors either, although I wouldn’t describe my town as twee. What it is, like Three Pines, is relentlessly non-biased and sensitive so it’s not as if I don’t know they exist - although I don’t think that aspect has anything to do with not locking my doors. And your description of the sidekick doesn’t encourage me to try again! Unfortunately, a poor start makes it hard to muster my interest, but perhaps down the line I will try a later book.
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Old 11-16-2020, 10:14 AM   #12
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I got hooked by the first book in the series - quirky, inconsistent, obvious freshman effort in writing a mystery - I was intrigued by the concept of a town that was not on the map, and the interactions of the people within it. Gamache began as an outsider, and his role in the series increases as he increasingly becomes integrated into the town.

The murder scenarios were always fantastic, but connected with Three Pines.

I had to stop reading the series after the books pivoted away from Three Pines, with Gamache taking on the entire Canadian government, the entire northern hemisphere drug traffic cartels, and lately, the entire French government. And winning ....

Ruth Zardo is one of the greatest characters ever created, IMHO. And the use of Margaret Atwood's poetry is stunning.
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Old 11-16-2020, 11:29 AM   #13
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The murder scenarios were always fantastic, but connected with Three Pines.
I know I invoked Stars Hollow, but it sounds as if Cabot Cove also applies.
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Old 11-17-2020, 07:58 AM   #14
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First up: I apologise for my absence for the previous book (indeed an absence for the last 6 weeks or so, I think). I was ... lots of stuff really, but let's keep it simple: unavoidably detained. I didn't read last month's selection, and I didn't even read this one this month, but I have read it before, and recently enough that I have both my review written at the time and a reasonable memory of it. So...


I enjoyed this book. I liked the cast of characters, even the more stereotypical ones were done well enough to keep me entertained. The only character that didn't work particularly well for me was Yvette Nichol. There were a few things through the story that didn't sit perfectly well with me, but mostly I thought it played out well and resolved in the expected tradition of this genre. The conclusion did not surprise me, but there were enough distractions along the way to keep me from being certain, and I found the ride to be well worth it.

BUT, for all that I did enjoy it, I have not rushed out to read more. I have the next couple on my reader (collected on special since reading the first), but haven't been inspired to come back yet. I expect I will - eventually.

I agree with Uncle Robin's comments that there is no point trying to compare this to the work of Agatha Christie. There may be overt similarities in genre, by they feel quite different to read.
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Old 11-17-2020, 10:48 AM   #15
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I enjoyed but didn’t love the book. I like the village life depiction and mysteries in the “Bruno, Chief of Police” series better. I will likely read more in the series. I’ve heard that the next 2 are a little weird and that the series really hits its stride with Book 4.
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