Glass Houses by Louise Penny

Glass Houses cover

I’ve been waiting for quite a wee while in a library queue to get my hands on Louise Penny’s new book Glass Houses, and it was worth the wait as it was another enjoyable trip to Quebec and the loveable village of Three Pines in particular. Armande Gamache had of course retired to the quaint and friendly village (despite the previous murders) it’s now home to him and his wife Reine-Marie. But he’s back at work now and having to testify in court in a homicide case where he was the arresting officer. It’s July and the heat is unbearable, especially for the judge and lawyers in their gowns and wigs. Everyone is fanning themselves with paper in a vain effort to get a waft of cool air, this part reminded me very much of the court case in To Kill a Mockingbird.

But the incidents that led to the court case took place in the freezing Quebec winter, and through the case we’re taken back to that time. Gamache has had some very difficult decisions to make, going against everything he has been taught about being a good Surete officer. There’s a massive drug ring bringing opioids through Canada and into the US and on top of that there’s been a murder in Three Pines.

It’s all very topical as opioids have in recent years caused havoc in the US but for me the murder/mystery aspect of this series isn’t necessarily the most important part. The close knit community of the villagers of Three Pines and their activities mean that reading these books is like being in the company of good friends. Everybody should have a Ruth and Rosa in their lives.

There was one thing that perplexed me, the nursery rhyme Ring a ring a’ roses which was apparently inspired by the Black Death/plague is mentioned quite a few times but where the words in the UK are ‘atishoo atishoo we all fall down’ – they’re written in this book as ‘ashes ashes we all fall down’

I’m left wondering if in Canada the word ‘ashes’ is used to denote a sneeze. I know that in Germany they say/write ‘atchi’ or hatchi’ for a sneeze, but ‘ashes’ seems strange to me. Can anyone enlighten me?

If you read this book make sure that you don’t skip the Author’s Note at the end where Louise Penny explains that her writing and Three Pines and its inhabitants helped her as her husband’s life was coming to an end, he had had dementia. It’s very moving.

8 thoughts on “Glass Houses by Louise Penny

    • tracybham,
      I think this is the only series I’m reading that I’m up to date with. I’m way behind with Rebus and haven’t even started on Val McDermid, another local author.

  1. I learned the rhyme as “ashes, ashes” as well so it is not just Canada that uses the variant. As far as I know, ashes is not a word used to denote a sneeze. When I was younger I was told it referred to the burning of bodies or the burning of houses that were full of the plague. I have no idea how much truth there is to that. Probably not much. I am constantly fascinated by how familiar things are just that little bit different in another country.

    • Jennifer,
      That’s very strange, I feel a mini-blogpost coming on, just to explain what I was taught about the rhyme. It seems to be a bit of a Chinese whisper.

  2. I was just going to write essentially what Jennifer has written. I grew up in the United States saying ‘ashes, ashes’. As a child, I had no idea of the reference to the plague. When I learned about that, I also assumed that ‘ashes, ashes’ was about burning of bodies and houses struck by the plague.
    A agree with you that there’s a great joy in reading about Three Pines because the villagers, or at least the ones who show up most often in the books, are like friends. I have always had interesting (eccentric?) older women in my life. I even had Rita, who rescued ducks, geese, chickens, and other fowl and was well into her 70s (which doesn’t sound so old when you now have a 73-year-old husband and are getting perilously close to that yourself) when I met her years ago. Last I heard, she was still running around in her sneakers, rescuing birds!

    • Joan,
      No it’s definitely not anything to do with burning bodies. I could show you a few huge mounds where bodies were just piled up and eventually grass/weeds grew over them. Probably there was nobody left alive with the energy to dig pits to put them in.
      Snap! I’ve had some great women friends who happened to be in elderly bodies. They don’t care what they say or what anybody thinks of them, I’m rapidly going that way myself!

  3. I’ve seen “ashes, ashes” used in US versions of the rhyme but I think it’s just been used in an onomatopoeic fashion, as bodies were not cremated in past centuries – plague victims were buried.

    On a brighter note: the solstice has just taken place, the days will be lengthening in the Northern Hemisphere 🙂

    • Valerie,
      I’ve been waiting for the solstice for weeks as it cheers me up to know that the light nights will be with us soonish. I meant to do a musical solstice blogpost before now.
      As you say – plague victims weren’t cremated, they were usually thrown into big pits, but in some places just piled up so there are plague mounds. I’ve seen a few of them near really old churches in England.

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