I want to live in Three Pines, a village in Quebec’s Eastern Townships not found on any map. Found only by those who need it. Even if it’s a figment of imagination created by Louise Penny for her Gamache mystery series, it’s so real to me that I can picture myself enjoying a licorice pipe with all the characters at the bistro.
A Magical Place
Everyone belongs in Three Pines. Connections exist in multiple layers between the villagers, often going back years. They regularly host sumptuous feasts that make my mouth water. The village has everything you need for regular life: the afore-mentioned bistro, a bakery, a hardware store, a book store, and two B&Bs. There’s a nearby fire station with a volunteer fire brigade run by the Margaret Atwood-inspired Ruth Zardo and her duck Rosa.
The homes form a circle around the village green. Villagers enjoy every season, including the interminable winter, by dressing for the weather. A bench sits at the top of the green with a message inscribed on it: Surprised by Joy.
Recently, I got to meet Louise Penny at a book launch in downtown Toronto. She conducted an interview afterwards then answered questions from the large audience. Penny was candid, warm, and kind. What a pleasure to meet someone so fully congruent – the way she writes is the way she presents herself.
While she understands suffering, she doesn’t stay mired in it. She sees the healing that comes from being in community with others. I like how she values friendships, loyalty, good food and wine. There’s nothing phony about her.
Penny quoted Seamus Heaney’s last words: “Noli timere” meaning “Don’t be Afraid.” The theme of courage runs through all her books.
An audience member asked if she feels more confident today having written 18 books. She replied that the fear never goes away. What she’s learned, however, is that all she needs is a little more courage. By emphasizing courage, she doesn’t erase the fear. She just makes courage more important.
People over Plot
Her stories aren’t about the crimes, really. They serve mostly to advance the plot. Penny wants to talk about people, specifically love, kindness, connection, community, belonging, and she does so in a non-judgemental way.
Three Pines shows how it’s not about what happens to you day to day (“the plot”) but about with whom you choose to surround yourself. Over the past few years, I have slowly created my own Three Pines with a wonderful group of friends who nurture and support each other. It brings such comfort to know I only need to reach out and I’ll be lifted up.
If you have a Three Pines, treasure it. If you don’t, find it. A life fully loved is about the quality of your life. For me, my quality of life depends on my level of connection. My sense of belonging. Feeling loved. Penny’s Three Pines isn’t just a place, it’s a beating heart.