Louise Penny Help Desk: Part 4
As part of crime month on Canada Writes, we asked you to send along to us some of the questions you had for our Master Class leader Louise Penny. Here, Louise answers the final two—revealing the philosophical underpinnings of her novels as well as the titles of the engaging reads on her nightstand.
Jake Tarrant of Halifax, NS asks:
In your novels, you really seem to grasp both a more icy Anglophone community in Quebec, as well as the French side of the province, with its seemingly greater panache and warmth. What kind of room is there for social commentary in the crime genre?
I think there’s huge room for social commentary. Detective fiction is a very big tent. From so-called cosies, that tend to the lighter side—to noir, which is exactly that. Darker. I have very strong feelings about life and society, about our personal choices and our collective responsibility, from gay rights to literacy to the power of kindness to animal welfare. But I have no desire to use my writing as modern-day pamphleteering, or personal screeds. Indeed, many of the views my characters express, I don’t share. However, most of them I do. And I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. For instance, my take on Quebec politics and society isn’t necessarily shared by most Anglophones or most Francophones. But it has been what I’ve lived. The books have a very definite philosophical underpinning. Like Gamache, I know that goodness exists. Not because I’m a little thick and haven’t noticed the cruelty in the world, or experienced it—but because, like him, I have. I know what a gift life is, and the deep peace of finally finding ‘a quiet place in the bright sunshine.’ Like many of my characters, I’ve been surprised by joy. That’s really what I want to explore in the books: the choices we make, as individuals and as a society. But I have no desire to impose my beliefs, or choices, on anyone else, though I do have a desire to explore and expose them."
Barbara Lehtiniemi of Cambridge, ON asks:
When you read for pleasure, what sort of books do you like to read?
One of the only sadnesses in a life that has been filled with unexpected delight has been that I find I can no longer read detective fiction for fun. Perhaps one day, but I find now my mind engages and I try to analyse the plot, the characters, what the writer has done, for better or worse. So I no longer read detective fiction. I also don’t want to be influenced. Though I do read the classics still. Georges Simenon, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh. And I read nonfiction. I just finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and am now reading a book about J Bruce Ismay, the president of the White Star Line, who survived the Titanic, and was vilified. I find it fascinating, and humbling. Makes me wonder if I’d do exactly what he did."