Saturday, October 9, 2010
BURY YOUR DEAD by Louise Penny
When it comes to Louise Penny's Armand Gamache books, Bury Your Dead is almost an epic. It is broader in scope and deals with a larger preponderance of fundamental things than the other Gamache books I've read.
As always, several stories intertwine. Gamache works to solve a murder in the English library enclave of Quebec. At the same time, another member of his team struggles to solve a murder in Three Pines, and they all remember past mistakes. The library murder includes trying to find out what happened to the body of Samuel de Champlain, Québec's founder.
All three stories involve delving into the past. They also involve how the future can sometimes change the past.
I hesitate to say much more about this powerful book. But I think I understood it in a special way.
At one point, Gamache talks with a young minister about the minister's involvement in a dangerous ice-bound canoe race.
You may think I'm in the race to show I'm strong, the minister says. "'I'm not strong at all. Not where it counts. The truth is I'd rather be sweating and heaving a canoe over slush and ice than sitting one-on-one with a sick and dying parishioner. That terrifies me.'
"Gamache leaned forward, his voice as soft as the light. 'What scares you about it?'
"'That I won't know what to say, that I'll let them down. That I won't be enough.'"
As a retired minister, I know the feeling. And now I understand, though I didn't for a long time, that all responsible jobs have in them, not just the possibility, but the probability, of failure somewhere along the way. When you take on huge tasks, you risk (and will almost always make) huge mistakes. And that applies as much to medical people or police investigators as it does to ministers. Maybe it even applies to writers, which is something all who write should think about.
So, this is a story of taking on huge tasks, doing them as well as you are able, but not perfectly, and then living with the results.
It is a powerful story indeed.