Fear in Writing: The Brutal Setting

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Brutal Setting

"In front of them was the village green with its pond and bench, its bed of roses and hydrangea, late flowering phlox and hollyhocks.  And at the end of the common, anchoring it and the village, stood the three tall pines...There were weathered white clapboard cottages, with wide porches and wicker chairs.  There were tiny fieldstone houses built centuries ago by the first settlers, who'd cleared the land and yanked the stones from the earth.  But most of the homes around the village green  were made of rose-hued brick, built by United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution...The people who created the village had been desperate for sanctuary, hiding from a war they didn't believe in."
This beautiful description is taken from page 15 of Louise Penny's The Brutal Telling.  Penny has long been one of my favorite authors.  Her fictional village of Three Pines is a place I would love to visit.  It's a place where people know each other and come together for meals and laughter, superstition and fingerpointing.  It's a vibrant place of real, flawed people who happen to live in one of the most picturesque villages every created.

And yet from this first description of Three Pines in The Brutal Telling (book 5 in a series), one can tell something is slightly off.  Why the architecture and horticulture seem perfect and comforting, we are giving the information about the first settlers.  Three Pines wasn't begun as a vacation spot, but rather as a refuge from war, settled by those who were on the run.

Hemlocks, 1939, courtesy
Paramour Fine Arts

Penny uses setting so perfectly.  She at once creates a place you want to sink into and never leave, but of which you are also wary.  Why do so many secrets live in this place? the reader wonders. 

These books always leave me questioning if I can ever create a place so special, so magical.  And I read them as slowly as I can so I draw out the experience for as long as possible.  But I can't read them too slowly, as they don't want to be put aside!

Do you have a book or a series that is like this for you?  Is there a setting from literature to which you are drawn?  How about in writing...Have you created a magical place for your characters and your mind to go?


  1. Michele - I agree completely about Louise Penny! Her setting is so beautifully described. I like several settings I've read, actually. One is the Lake District setting of Martin Edwards' books. Another is the small-town setting of Elizabeth Spann Craig'sMyrtle Clover series. I'm also swept away by the American Southwest setting in Tony Hillermran's Jim Chee/Joe Leaphorn series. Those are just a few examples that, to me, show how right you are about the importance of setting.

  2. I love settings. I'm particularly drawn to the English setting because there is so much history.


  3. I enjoy most fantasy and science fiction settings. Probably because it's not HERE.

  4. I absolutely adore the title of this book. I think I would purchase it from that alone.

    Describing my setting is so much fun, as is the research that goes into it. I probably spend a little too MUCH time on getting my setting just right, but the end result is worth it.

  5. When I visited London for the first (and only) time, I felt I was at home. I've read so many books set in the city, every street corner was deja vous.

  6. I love this series. I'm a huge Louise Penny fan and had a chance to meet her in person at Malice Domestic in April. Such a *nice* person! And a fantastic writer.

  7. Margot- You name some great ones here. Keeps you reading, doesn't it?

    Clarissa- That attracts me to a book as well: history.

    Alex- I get that. All good books take us somewhere, and a fantasy place can be a whole new level of 'away.'

    Amanda- It's amazing how you know the title fits loooooong before it's mentioned in the book. Buy it! Read it! And I agree--good setting is worth the research.

    Rayna- That is fantastic. I love to be taken back to a place I know and love...or want to know MORE.

    Elizabeth- Jealous. VERY jealous right now. Her website really shows what a kind author she is--lots of help for new and want-to-be writers.