A funny thing happened when Louise Penny decided to take a year off from writing.
Penny, who has produced a book a year since 2005, had no plans for how she’d spend her newfound free time. “I hadn’t thought it all the way through,” she admitted in a phone interview. “The reality is, after 20 years of writing, I don’t think a day has gone by when I haven’t thought about the books, characters or plots or where to go next. It’s been wonderful; it’s not like it’s been this great anvil I’ve been lugging around. But as a result, when I decided to take a hiatus, there was this chasm. What do I fill it with?”
You can guess where this is going. Penny started to percolate a new story, which became “A World of Curiosities,” her 18th mystery starring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. It debuted at No. 1 on the hardcover fiction list less than a week after Prime Video aired “Three Pines,” an eight-episode adaptation of her novels. Margaret Lyons, a New York Times television critic, described the series as “a show with real punch and panache.” On her website, Penny writes, “I’m sure you are wondering how true it is to the books. There are definitely changes, some I struggle with, but overall I am pleased and relieved.”
With “A World of Curiosities,” Penny believes space and time — and permission to enjoy both — made all the difference, leading to a more fluid and propulsive writing experience. “I didn’t feel the hot breath on my neck with this book,” she said. “I write because I choose to, and I never, ever want these books to turn into anything formulaic, or a sausage factory. I couldn’t do that to the readers or to myself.”
As with all of her novels, Penny drew inspiration from two lines by W.H. Auden in his elegy to Herman Melville: “Goodness existed: that was the new knowledge./His terror had to blow itself quite out/To let him see it.”
She explained, “Very few people see goodness, and see the profound impact of goodness, more than people who have known terror. We come out the other end, and we recognize goodness because we have known the terror. And so the books — even the early ones that appear to be more gentle — are actually about terror. But more than that they’re about goodness and decency, about belonging and love and friendship.”
Elisabeth Egan is an editor at the Book Review and the author of “A Window Opens.”