"....few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into [her] heart. Those first images, the echo of words we think we have left behind, accompany us throughout our lives and sculpt a palace in our memories to which, sooner or later - no matter how many books we read, how many worlds we discover or how much we learn or forget - we will return." -Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny is a balm for the soul

Evening on the North Shore by Clarence Gagnon
The Long Way Home (A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel) by Louise Penny is the tenth installment in the series. All of them I have loved (with the possible exception of #9). None of them have I written about, until now.

The reason may have as much to do with laziness as with my feelings about the actual books, or it may be that this one finally unearthed what it is I adore about Ms. Penny's novels.

In the Long Way Home, the author employs repetition of an old spiritual to coax the reader into the book: There is a Balm in Gilead.

There is balm in Gilead,
To make the wounded whole;
There's power enough in heaven,
To cure a sin-sick soul.
At first I thought it just sounded nice. But as the characters in the book repeated it, the deeper meaning began to surface. It felt like a meditation. I noticed that I was unwittingly repeating it throughout the day, and in the quiet moments before sleep. I wasn't sure exactly what it meant, but as the author asked me to explore its meaning vis a vis the characters, and as the story moved onward, I was liking the way it made me feel.

There is a balm in Gilead.

In the book, Ms. Penny talks about how art (mostly paintings - the characters' as well as Clarence Gagnon's, figure prominently is this story - but also sculpture, poetry and song) can convey a feeling. The art itself may be considered good or bad, may be misunderstood or defy understanding, but it is felt.

It finally dawned on me, THAT is why I love the Gamache books. They are good books. I've loved the characters, and the setting of the Quebecois village of Three Pines from the beginning. However, there is also something more, something I couldn't quite put my finger on, that attracted me to the books, seduced me. It grew stronger as I read the series.

The Gamache books subtly transmit feelings. Feelings about creativity, fear, hope, trust, love and redemption. Feelings about life, and something greater than that. I'm still reaching for words to describe it. I may be for quite some time.

There is a balm in Gilead. To make the wounded whole.

While the hymn is Christian in origin, I think it can be viewed through the lens of any religion or philosophy. I viewed it in a yogic way, as a mediation. I've just finished the Long Way Home, so what the meditation means to me will continue to expand. For now, it is a balm for this soul.

There is a balm in Gilead.

Photo credit: Irina