Make Room for Ducklings?: Background information when reading How the Light Gets In

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How the Light Gets In

A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel, #9

by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2013, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2014, 416 pages

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Beyond the Book:
Make Room for Ducklings?

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In her review of How The Light Gets In for The Washington Post, Maureen Corrigan writes: "Penny's voice — occasionally amused, yet curiously formal — is what makes the world of her novels plausible. I can think of few other writers who could sidestep cuteness in a scene that features an elderly female poet and her pet duck."

Here is a scene from the novel that features that poet, Ruth, and her pet duck, Rosa:

[Ruth] lifted Rosa from her lap, feeling it warm where the duck had been. She carefully placed Rosa on Jean-Guy's lap.
He seemed not to notice, but after a few moments he brought his hand up and stroked Rosa. Softly, softly.
"I could wring her neck, you know," he said.
"I know," said Ruth. "Please don't."
She watched Rosa, holding her dark duck eyes. And Rosa looked at Ruth, as Jean-Guy's hand caressed the feathers of Rosa's back, coming closer and closer to the long neck.
Ruth held fast to Rosa's eyes.
Finally Jean-Guy's hand stopped, and rested.
"Rosa came back," he said.
Ruth nodded.
"I'm glad," he said.
"She took the long way home," said Ruth. "Some do, you know." (p 379)

DucklingYes, Ruth Zardo, the mad, brilliant poet in Louise Penny's How the Light Gets In has a pet duck named Rosa. Ducks are so cool. They're soft, and their chicks are even softer. But here's another not-so-cool thing about ducks: they poop. All the time. As in every 15 minutes. An articlein The Huffington Post suggested that millions of parents have given — or will give — their kids ducks for Easter. The downside to owning a duck, according to the Huff Post "is cleaning up after a diaperless duck." (Yes you can actually buy diapers specifically made for ducks!) So while a few might make it as pets, especially to families with ample outdoor space, and some other lucky ones will end up at farm sanctuaries or duck rescue centers, too many will meet nastier ends, one of which is when well meaning owners release their ducks into the wild. Domesticated ducks can't survive in the wild. Many can't fly and their colors don't necessarily match their environment; added to which they simply don't know how to act and would be unable to defend themselves if attacked by other ducks who already live in the territory.

They do have some pretty fascinating qualities though. Ducks' feet can't feel the cold because they don't have any nerves or blood vessels in them, so icy water is no problem! They also sleep with half their brain awake. According to scientists at Indiana State University they sleep with one eye open, and brain wave patterns confirm that this one-eye-open-one-eye-shut phenomenon means that one hemisphere of the brain is asleep while the other is awake. They can sense and deal with danger incredibly fast. Ducks have wonderful qualities too. They are very loyal, for one thing. They greet their owners at the door, some even wag their tails, and they can be taught tricks.

Wayne O'Donnell knows this. He takes his pet duck, Boris, everywhere with him, "including to the pub for a pint." He even took him on a summer holiday to a villa in Barcelona.

Many people, like Wayne, keep ducks for pets and there are many how-to books and websites dedicated to these web-footed creatures. Helen Baker, for example, has been raising ducks in her suburban backyard for years. She stresses the importance of recognizing that ducks need to live outdoors, keeping them safe inside a fenced area, giving them a shelter to protect them from cold and wind, and providing a small body of water for them. They don't need to swim, but they certainly prefer it. She emphasizes that ducks are social creatures and are happier and healthier if raised in groups. They can be trained to play games, do tricks and if they bond with humans early, they are incredibly loyal and reciprocate affection.

All in all though, keeping a duck for a pet must be a carefully thought out endeavor. Not least because they are in heat 10 months out of the year. A warm, fluffy Easter pet could turn into a cold, hard sex education lesson pretty quick!

This article was originally published in September 2013, and has been updated for the July 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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