I have spent the last couple of weeks re-reading the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. The first time I read them, I got the books out of order. This time I'm being careful to get them in order, and they make more sense this time around. How can I describe them? They make me feel as if I'm coming home to a place I've never been but that I find achingly attractive. I feel as if I could hop in the car and drive to the Eastern Townships and find Three Pines. I want to make friends with her characters, to poke around Olivier's antiques and watch Clara paint and sit on the bench on the green and eat a croissant. I find myself brushing up on my French in preparation to go.
Louise Penny has a brilliant talent for digging into people's motivations and understanding the chaos of emotions people experience but try not to own up to. She notices their wrinkles and warts and -- sometimes -- horns. But even while pointing out their flaws, she looks with love. Struggling, weak, conflicted humans are still quiet heroes, and even murderers are treated with compassion. In Gamache himself she juxtaposes gentleness and strength, joy and sorrow. It's because of their weaknesses that her people are endearing.
Don't be fooled. Her series isn't just an entertaining read. Immersing yourself in her world is like plunging into a warm, refreshing pool and paddling in the soothing water and soaking in the sunshine, and then stubbing your toe against something unidentified and prickly at the bottom. Not enough to chase you out of the pool, but enough to disturb you, make you pause and question and reflect. Charm and coziness to draw you in, and then a sharp stab of glittering insight like a shard of glass wakes you up from your comfortable lull, and you realize you're being taught something important under the veneer of fiction. You recognize truth and realize her writing isn't fiction at all.
And now -- frajus day! -- she has a new book coming out. Forget work, forget the laundry, forget to cook dinner, forget to eat at all. I have the promise of a delicious evening under a blanket, absorbing and pondering and glorying that I've found this stunning author.