Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Still Life

by Louise Penny

I do not reread books as a general rule.  There are only 4 books that I can think of that I have reread:  Jane Eyre, The Book of Mormon, Still Life, and A Fatal Grace.  Five books if you'll let me count the New Testament.  (I read the Old Testament once and I think that will do it for this lifetime.)  You may have noticed that 2 of those books are by Louise Penny and can I just say, "The are even better the 2nd time around!"

My review of the first reading of Still Life can be found here (Feb 2009).  I remember liking the book and being impressed with Penny's style of writing and I enjoyed the characters, hoping we would meet them again in future books.  And we did get to chum with them in the sequels.  Penny unwraps parts of each character and lets us slowly get acquainted with them as we might a new friend.  In this reread I was reminded of earlier descriptions of the characters and to see them in light of what I knew about them from later writings.  My word, they are such multi-faceted, complex, flawed, and yet lovable people.  The following quote illustrates how well Penny brings her characters to life, as well as her understanding of human nature and her gift for expressing it in writing.
“Clara shrugged and immediately knew her betrayal of Peter. In one easy movement she'd distanced herself from his bad behavior, even thought she herself was responsible for it. Just before everyone had arrived, she'd told Peter about her adventure with Gamache. Animated and excited she'd gabbled on about her box and the woods and the exhilarating climb up the ladder to the blind. But her wall of words hid from her a growing quietude. She failed to notice his silence, his distance, until it was too late and he'd retreated all the way to his icy island. She hated that place. From it he stood and stared, judged, and lobbed shards of sarcasm.

'You and your hero solve Jane's death?'

'I thought you'd be pleased,' she half lied. She actually hadn't thought at all, and if she had, she probably could have predicted his reaction. But since he was comfortably on his Inuk island, she'd retreat to hers, equipped with righteous indignation and warmed by moral certitude. She threw great logs of 'I'm right, you're an unfeeling bastard' onto the fire and felt secure and comforted.”
One thing I didn't fully appreciate the first time was the beauty of Penny's writing.  She is a literary genius without seeming to be.  Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post said, "Penny is a writer blessed with considerable sophistication and literary skill."  He described her 6th book as a fascinating hybrid: a cozy that at best reads like good literary fiction. I totally agree.   I especially like how she examines meaning of an object or a simple term like 'still life.'  In the book there is a piece of art that is a 'still life'.  Myrna, the bookstore owner and former psychiatrist, described a personality trait - the people who lead "still" lives.  The ones who aren't growing or evolving, who are standing still.  Penny presents the title, in this case an object in another book, and throws light on different meanings or connotations of the term or object or situation.

My husband is currently rereading Still Life.  When I picked it up from where he keeps it, I was surprised at the wear evident from its being a well-loved and well-read copy.  Beside he and I reading it twice, my mother, sister, and daughter have all read this copy.  It has sticky notes left by DH and Bookdarts left by me. What a treat it's been to look through these marked spots and linger on them. 

1 comment:

Ann Summerville said...

I started reading a Louise Penny book and didn't like it, but I can't remember why. Perhaps I should give her another try.