As I'm writing this in early December, 2013, 78-year-old Leonard Cohen, poet/songwriter/singer is still getting raves about his “Old Ideas” tour that is finally winding down after three years. Reviewers note his wit, charm, heartfelt grace, and the moments when he knelt down (and got up again) while singing his beautiful, insightful songs to hundreds of thousands all over the world.
I was thinking about Cohen because of a quote from his song, "Anthem," which introduces a book I just read.
"Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering.
There's a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in."
"How the Light Gets In" is the ninth book in a series by Louise Penny who writes cozy, small town detective stories set in Canada. Her book title reflects the fact that her characters have cracks and imperfections. The title is an apt choice, because Penny’s characters are "of a certain age"—and older. They may drink, dream, be afraid or talk too much, but they're interesting, living their lives without complaining about aging or longing for youth. Lots of Cohen's songs are about life lived maybe boisterously, maybe carelessly, but seemingly, without regret.
Louise Penny herself knows about light slipping in through a crack. After years as a journalist and radio host with the Canadian Broadcast Corporation, she admitted she was an alcoholic, sought help and has been recovering for decades, one day at a time. There was a crack in her armor where the light got in.
One of her cracks is that she wants to live in a perfect little village like the town she made up, Three Pines, Quebec.
Brick and fieldstone homes, along with a butcher, a baker, a bookstore and a general store ring the village green, where children play hockey all winter, neighbors stop to chat, and dogs and ducks frolic. Life inside a snow globe.
Besides always-available flaky croissants, homemade sausages and jams, this little village (about an hour south of Montreal, Quebec), has another unique feature—a disproportionately large body count.
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec, a tough-as-nails experienced detective, and his team, including handsome and intelligent Jean-Guy Beauvoir, mean-spirited Yvette Nicole and attractive young mother, Isabelle Lacoste, regularly ride in to solve the wanton, ugly crimes which unhappily collect in this bucolic setting.
Recently the CBC filmed "Still Life," the first of Penny’s Inspector Gamache series with Nathanial Parker in the lead role. Penny says that like her husband, "Gamache understands perfectly well how cruel the world is. He has evidence of it every day. The reason he is kind is because he chooses to be kind. He stands in the light because he knows where the darkness is."
Some of my friends think the Three Pines is just a little too perfect. Some days I agree with them, but other times I'm in the mood for goodness and flaky croissants triumphing over evil.
Penny said her books are inspired by two lines from a W.H. Auden poem, an elegy to Herman Melville:
“Goodness existed: that was the new knowledge
His terror had to blow itself quite out
To let him see it,"
As these gray winter days go on and on, I thought, if you didn't know about Louise Penny, I'd point you to her snow globe village. Make a cup of hot chocolate, pull a cover over your knees and don't look outside. The book on your lap is how the light gets in.