Still Life‘s setting

When Jen described her idea for Detectives around the World, I was really excited. First, of course, because I love mysteries. But in the last few years I’ve really come to love books with a strong sense of place, regardless of the genre. Those books where the setting is so relevant that it’s basically a separate character? Yeah, I *love* those. So an idea that combined mysteries with a look at settings was right up my alley.

But when it came time for me to focus and write this post about the setting of Still Life by Louise Penny [link to my review], I’ve had a difficult time knowing what to write about.

I thought about writing this post strictly about each of these individually, at at least one point:

• Penny definitely used cozy food and beverages — from Thanksgiving dinners to the bistro — to help set the scene.

• All the talk about the weather (next storm coming in, cold front, hunting season) reminded me of rural small-towns I’ve lived in.

These are both valid, even important aspects of Still Life‘s setting. And I adored how Penny implemented these aspects to draw Three Pines. But these mostly, I think, define Three Pines as merely a rural small town. That’s part of it, but Penny gives us more.

• Penny’s use of language (particularly the smattering of French words thrown in) to bring us down to earth in Quebec, Canada.

I’m a lover of words. As part of that passion, I love languages. It always thrills me to read a book that has bits of another language here and there. And this book is no exception to that.

Now, not being fluent in French (or any language other than English, I’m ashamed to say), I mostly rely on the context to help me understand what’s going on, so I don’t have to run for Google Translate mid-sentence. But even if I can’t figure out each word, I love having those words there. I think for a book set in Quebec, this was an important thing for Penny to do, and I think she did it well.

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9 responses to “Still Life‘s setting

  1. I think I would love these books — from the French language to the descriptions of food. I love Quebec and I’m glad to know that the novels give you a feel for the area.

  2. I love books with a strong sense of place, so I bet I would love this. I do understand a smattering of French, so the French in there would probably enhance the book for me.

    • I understand some French, as well — I certainly didn’t have trouble with this book. (I took French in high school and spent a month in a French-speaking country.) But I’m certainly not fluent! And I’m sure you’ve got me beat, too.

  3. I, too, have come to really appreciate the setting of many of the mysteries that I read. I’ve travelled all over the world and learned a lot too. For me, the best thing about Three Pines is the timeless, almost fairy tale quality of this small village, which the author describes in one of the books as a place that you don’t find until you need it. She’s also described it as a Shangri-la or Brigadoon. Like a fairy tale though, evil lurks.

    I love the Quebec setting and also love the descriptions of food and all that loveliness, but I have wanted to actually visit Three Pines. Wish it were there.

  4. I too love mysteries set in a range of settings (and time periods too). I love the Nevada Barr mysteries that are set in national parks. I’m not generally a cozy mystery person, though there are some I like.

  5. Hannah, this is such a beautiful post. You really pulled important elements from Penny’s novel that define Three Pines. I read this series but also listened to it on audio, and I thought the narrator was outstanding and did a wonderful job of blending the French into the English. It was just the most wonderful sound. It doesn’t necessarily help with knowing what the words mean, but it takes you to another place. ;-)

    I’m so happy you enjoyed this book and the theme week. Your enthusiasm is what really what made this week work. Thank you!

  6. This is a wonderful series and I think you’ve hit on one of the major reasons. Penny can make a reader smell bread baking and feel snowflakes on her face. Such a fine writer.

  7. I like how you compared the setting to a character. That puts a picture in my mind. Strong characters are always a plus for me and I had not thought of the setting being considered that way before. I like that. :)

  8. Love this post. I’ve always wanted to visit Quebec and this book too!

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