★ ★ 1/2
Middling books are the hardest to review, dontchathink?
Maybe it’s the recent time change (is there any point to Daylight Savings Time anymore?), maybe it’s the fact that I feel like I’m swimming uphill in my nursing clinical trying to get hours in, but Still Life kept putting me to sleep. A blurb (or a review, I forget which) compares her to Agatha Christie, which I suppose could be true, only it’s a version of Christie that was being paid by the word and operates only inside people’s heads, which really isn’t Christie at all.
Consider Christie’s brief character description from Crooked House about Uncle Roger, an emotional gentle giant: “He collided with a screen, said ‘I beg your pardon’ to it in a flustered manner, and went out of the room. It was rather like the exit of a bumble bee and left a noticeable silence behind it.”
In Still Life, we get characters musing: “The studio was growing cold and Clara wondered whether Peter, sitting across the hall in his own studio was also cold. He would almost certainly, she thought with a twang of envy, be working too hard to notice. He never seemed to suffer from the uncertainty that could freeze her, leave her stuck and frozen in place. He just kept putting one foot in front of the other, producing his excruciatingly detailed works that sold for thousands in Montreal. It took him months to do each piece, he was so painfully precise and methodical. She’d given him a roller for his birthday one year and told him to paint faster. He didn’t seem to appreciate the joke. Perhaps because it wasn’t entirely a joke.”
Goodness, no wonder I kept falling asleep. There is a great deal of telling and hardly any showing. Dialogue is employed when it comes time to discover items of significance or sum up progress. Inspector Gamache, who I liked strictly because his name bears a resemblance to ‘ganache,’ holds an informal inquest and meets with all the villagers together, reviewing the circumstances of the death. Later, he convenes with his team, reviewing clues brainstorming solutions. For those who fell asleep earlier, it’s a nice chance to catch up.
The plot is fine; nothing unusual. It is possibly even a bit predictable–as I’ve mentioned before, if I can figure out what the mystery is, it must be relatively simple. I did like a development near the end that further fleshed out a character. However, many of the characters were one note: the urbane gay couple that ran a bistro and whose main conversation seemed to be joking about being gay; the petulant, money-grabbing niece; the caustic village witch–I mean ‘poet.’ There was also a junior detective whose characterization was particularly strange. I thought perhaps she was involved to block a crucial plot point, but I think I was wrong. Overall, I’d have to say the Christie comparison wears thin. It’s not that Christie wouldn’t have had weak characters, just that in her best works they would have felt a little less farcical.
Overall though, it’s a nice little study of the small village of Three Pines in Quebec, and of the talented Inspector and his team. A bit too pastoral for my own tastes, it’s a bit more like a painting of a haystack at sunset instead of a group of women dancing. To combat the sleepies I started reading from the end, hoping to find a strong finish that would invigorate me (it’s kind of like hopscotch, a chapter or two, then flip back further). And while it did, I have no real interest in re-reading.
I’ll give the next couple a try, because my mom wants to give them a go and because my friends seem to enjoy the series. Of course, your own mileage may vary. Note that it won a first book award or two.