Book Club Reflection: Still Life by Louise Penny

28 Sep

My book club met earlier this week to talk about Still Life by Louise Penny. I was able to read the book and watch the movie for this title in the last few weeks so it was really fresh in my mind when we were talking about it, a refreshing feeling!

We were able to get a little background on Penny. She lives in a small town in a very similar area to Three Pines. Her background is mainly with the CBC in radio. She took a break from writing when her husband, Michael, (to whom this book is dedicated) was ill. He passed away in September of 2016 and Penny has now returned to writing.

Most of us liked the book though there were a few dissenters. We all agreed it was a bit slow to start but that it picked up nicely a few chapters in. I mentioned that the head jumping was a bit annoying and a few others mentioned that it made it confusing to know who was talking. A new member of our group likes Penny and said the head jumping gets better later in this series.

The title has an array of meanings that we could dig into. The first is obviously the art term for a painting of an inanimate object. That’s a bit at odds with the subject matter in the book, however, because Jane paints people. The title is referenced other times, first by Myrna when she talks about being frustrated with her former psychiatric patients for not wanting to change and get better. It’s referenced again toward the end of the book, talking about people, like Ben, who are never growing and evolving, ones who are standing still and waiting for life to happen around them (page 304 in our copies). It seems obvious this last reference is a better analogy for the title but it’s nice that the first ties in so well.

One thing we debated was how Clara felt about Ben. I thought she meant she loved him romantically when she said she loved him, but others hadn’t read it that way. There’s a reference to Ben having feelings for Clara when they were younger, but Clara and Peter became a couple instead. Peter and Clara seemed to have a strained relationship, too, and we’re told that’s developed more in later novels (I’ll save the secret about how!).

A question we were asked was about how a person’s decisions affect them every day of their lives (it was a quote from the book but I didn’t write down the page number). Of course, Ben and Nichol are good examples of this. Another is Matthew Croft. He chose to admit to things he never did and live with the stigma that comes with them. I wonder how many people will really think he hit his son.

I expressed my frustration in my review that Agent Nichol didn’t resolve. A lot of others shared my frustration! She felt unresolved and dangling at the end of the book. We wanted to see if she would grow, if not in this book, then in the series. Someone in the group had read the fourth in the series and didn’t remember her being in it. I checked Goodreads and it lists Nichol as a character in the 2nd and 3rd books of the series so maybe there’s hope for her yet! Can anyone confirm she’s in the other books?

The reader guide we used identified three main couples in the book: Clara and Peter, Gabri and Olivier, and Gamache and his wife. We frankly disagreed. Clara and Peter are both a bit flat in this book, they have no arc. Gabri and Olivier are there for pure comic relief. Gamache’s wife has a very small role, though we’re told she’s a bigger character in later books. We also pointed out Yolande and Andre, whose relationship I’d like to hear more about! It sounds like they’re very different people raising a very rotten child! Jane and Andreas had more of a role in the plot than the Gamaches. Sometimes we’re smarter than the reader guide.

Thanks for reading along. I’m excited about our next book, Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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