Book Reviews

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

An example of Gregorian chant from the 14th-15th century. Photo used under Wikipedia commons licence
An example of Gregorian chant from the 14th-15th century. Photo used under Wikipedia commons licence

Can a book change the way you think? That’s the question for the month over at Classics Club. I haven’t yet fully worked out my answer in terms of the impact of reading classics but I can say for sure that my current audio book has affected my choice of music.

I don’t usually blog about audio books but I do listen to them regularly – they are what keeps me sane on the daily commute to work even if it’s not a particularly long trip. And on the days when I have a longer and solitary drive to an airport prior to a business trip somewhere, then they prove a godsend.  I can take only so much of news interviewers badgering politicians to try and get behind the pat answers.

Over the years of listening I’ve discovered that some genres work better than others as audio versions.

In the non fiction category, I’ve tried a couple of business type books but with varying success. Malcolm Gladwell‘s Tipping Point worked but Jim Collins’ Good to Great didn’t – I kept losing concentration on that one. Some classics have  been good listens (The Warden by Anthony Trollope was one) but many of the literary fiction novels I’ve given up on such as Oryx and Crake. It seems that I can’t cope with the level of concentration needed by the latter without risking an accident.

The one genre that’s worked consistently well is crime fiction and fortunately thanks to Ruth Rendell, Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin et al I’ve been well supplied for the last few years. But through the wonders of the blogosphere I heard of an author I’ve never read or listened to before, Canada’s Louise Penny. There was just one title in audio format available in my local library; The Beautiful Mystery. It’s a murder mystery which is set in a remote monastery whose inhabitants are world-reknowned for their singing prowess. The effect of their voices as they render ancient chants is so profound it is known as “the beautiful mystery.”

The Beautiful Mystery is a cut above the average murder mystery story. But the producers of this audio version should be sent to purgatory for ommiting to give us the same experience enjoyed by Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his assistant Jean-Guy Beauvoir. As they  try to penetrate the veil of secrecy in the cloisters they get to hear what makes the monks’ singing so special. You’d have thought any smart producer would have had the wit to include some snatches of Gregorian chants ourselves to help conjure up the atmosphere. Instead we just get told how magical these cloistered brothers sound.

After three days of frustration waiting and hoping to hear a few bars, I gave up and went in search of my own sound track. So now I am the proud owner of my first ever CD of Gregorian chant. It now nestles on the iPod in amongst  Elvis Costello, the Beatles and of course Adele. All I have to figure out now is how to listen to the music and the audio book at the same time.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

10 thoughts on “The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny

  • Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: Book Series On My Radar : BookerTalk

  • Pingback: #AtoZofBooks: Some favourites from the past | BookerTalk

  • Pingback: #12Days of Christmas book game: day 11 | BookerTalk

  • Pingback: Bloggers’ recommendations fill my shelves | BookerTalk

  • Pingback: How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny | BookerTalk

  • Pingback: 5 Books on a theme of music | BookerTalk

  • I’m so glad that you wrote this blog. It says all the things that i would like to say but can’t. I recently read The Beautiful Mystery and was fascinated by the information about neumes and the methods of passing on to others information about a piece of music before our familiar five line staff came into use. I had never even wondered if anything came before the staff. This book was like a breath of fresh air in providing enough historical information to be able to follow the story without weighing you down in facts. You can branch off on your own to get a further understanding of neumes. As a child I used to fantasize about somewhere out there were people who spoke a language which was purely musical – people with perfect pitch of course. You didn;t produce different sounds for different words, just a rapid series of notes. For example, if middle C on the piano is euivalent to our letter A the the word BED becomes C#, E, E flat.
    None of which has to with audio books . I still have to try them. 🙂

    • You know way more about music than I do – can’t sing for toffee myself even though I am from Wales and we’re known as the land of song – and i can’t play any musicial instrument either. But I like listening and appreciating the output of people who can do these things. I learned today that these chants have a relaxing effect like meditation because they stimulate alpha waves in the brain. So could be something I listen to when I need calming down.

  • Interesting. I also don’t usually blog about my audiobooks — or I may mention them, but I do not review them. I have been listening primarily to history. Since we moved to Virginia I felt the need to know more about the founders as well as the Civil War. But I know my limitations — I am not a historian and have difficulty thinking like one. I can tell if a book is interesting or well written, but have some difficulty knowing how well sourced or accurate it is. I just don’t have enough background in the field.
    As for Gregorian Chant, I own a CD of it, but I can’t recall why. I listen to some Sanskrit chanting — because of my interest in yoga and find similarities in the effects of both.

    • To know whether the book is accurate you’d have to read multiple books on the same subject I think and to be able to compare interpretations. Something that I learned from doing a university course on history was that you always have to look at the agenda of the person who’s writing the book or the original source document.


We're all friends here. Come and join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: