Monday, September 16, 2019

At the intersection of truth and wishful thinking

Then he'd gotten back up, and walked some more. For hours.


He only stopped when he'd met himself again. The Armand who'd been standing on the side of the quiet road, in the middle of nowhere, waiting. At the intersection of truth and wishful thinking.
I showed up at bookclub a couple years ago, for a book I hadn't entirely enjoyed. The usual bookclub host was out sick and couldn't make it — she'd asked one of the other bookstore employees to fill in, someone who hadn't read the book. One other reader showed up. It was a quiet evening at the shop, so the bookstore clerk on duty sat down and had a beer with us.

That other reader though. I want to say her name was Marion, it was — she was — of another era. She must've been seventy-something, elegantly grey, incongruously carrying a plastic shopping bag to haul some notes, a shawl. She couldn't possibly have ever worked, apart from arranging tea or some fundraising down at the club. She was visiting from Texas, and had a night in Montreal before embarking on her adventure. What better activity than attending a book club about a book she happened to have recently read. The book in question was short stories by Teffi, but that doesn't matter.

She drawled loud and slow, her head bobbing gently. And she told us she'd stopped in Montreal on her way to Three Pines. Of course she knew it was a fictional place; but she needed to see the village that inspired it. Marion was on her way to the Eastern Townships to meet Louise Penny, and to celebrate the launch of the latest instalment of the Inspector Gamache books. That would've been Glass Houses.

This is only the fifth book I've read of the series, now fifteen strong. But it's peopled by characters so familiar, in a place just down the road. They don't call these cozy mysteries for nothing.

Louise Penny is a frightfully astute observer of the human condition.
Men and women going about their lives. Apparently quite normal. On the outside. Their skin stretched across the void inside.
Glass Houses has two main narrative threads. The "present day" courtroom drama in a sweltering July, and the events of the previous November, including the murder for which someone is now standing trial. We don't know the nature of the crime, who the victim is or who the perpetrator, until we are quite a way into the book (some readers may find this frustrating).

As is typical of Penny, there's a healthy dose of real-life Quebec politics thrown in, this time a drug crisis, the organization of the drug's trafficking within Quebec and across international borders, and the failure of authorities to clamp down — all issues in the news in recent years.

At the core of the book is the concept of the cobrador, a debt collector who dresses like Darth Vader (or Death, or a plague doctor). Penny's version is a collector of moral debts. It turns out almost everyone believes the cobrador could be there for them.

Gamache and others have to decide if their job is to uphold the law or to do what's right. Gamache is Churchill allowing Coventry to be bombed, for the greater good.
And Lacoste remembered the advice given to Mossad agents. Advice Lacoste had found abhorrent, wrong on every level. Until it had been explained.

The instruction given the Israeli agents, if they met resistance during an assault, was kill the women first.

Because if a woman was ever driven so far as to pick up a weapon she would be the most committed, the least likely to ever give up.

Kill the women first.

Lacoste still hated the advice. The simplicity of it. The baldness. But she also hated that the philosophy behind it was almost certainly true.
To be honest, I thought Marion at bookclub was crazy. Maybe because I'm afraid of becoming her. But I haven't forgotten about her. In fact, I rather admire her. Why shouldn't I be like her, following the paths of my favourite imaginary people?

And let me admit now how much I loved to be enveloped in the world of Three Pines. I could stand to spend a little more time there. I'm going back to read the ones I've missed.
It wasn't really, he knew, about less fear. It was about more courage.

No comments: