Bear Paperback – Aug 4 2009
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Bear, which won Marian Engel the Governor General's Award for fiction and remains her best-known novel, is a short, lyrical book with a simple, notorious plot. A solitary, reclusive woman works as an archivist for a Toronto-based Canadian history institute that receives a large and unusual bequest by a descendent of a notable military family: a remote house in northern Ontario, filled with an unknown quantity of books and manuscripts. Engel's heroine travels to the house, which is accessible only by water, and begins to catalogue the deceased colonel's collection. Along with the house, the protagonist encounters Homer Campbell, the capable, friendly manager of the local general store and gas station, and an aging black bear that was once a pet of the Institute's benefactor.
As Bear continues, its heroine's research among the house's antiquated library draws her into serious reflection on romantic literature, but most readers won't bother with this--it is the protagonist's sexual relations with her pet bear that are the most famous element of the novel. Engel is, happily, not particularly graphic in her treatment of this subject, but she does load it with a great deal of symbolism. Many readers will find that her novel tries too hard to be a parable of animalism, while others will simply dismiss this solipsistic love story (for that is what it is, after a fashion) as unbelievable. Nevertheless, anyone who is not adverse to this mode of didactic storytelling will find Bear to be an enjoyable--and unusual--read. --Jack Illingworth --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“The best Canadian novel of all time. . . . Engel’s prose turns swiftly from the comic to lyric and back again. . . . In part for its extravagant strangeness, for the disruption it poses to [Canadian] tradition, Bear deserves to be celebrated.”
“A strange and wonderful book, plausible as kitchens, but shapely as a folktale, and with the same disturbing resonance.”
“Canada’s Lolita or Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”
--Globe and Mail
“Bear works as simply and mysteriously as a folktale. It is a remarkable tour de force.”
--New York Times
“A startlingly alive narrative of the forbidden, the unthinkable, the hardly imaginable.”
“At once insightful and mysterious. . . . Bear is brave. We should be too.”
“It’s a modern Canadian fable . . . and, above all, totally readable.”
“An astounding novel, both earthy and mythical, which leads into the human self and also outward to suggest and celebrate the mystery of life itself.”
--Margaret Laurence, author of The Stone Angel
“A riveting story . . . brilliant and moving.”
– Publishers Weekly
From the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The real "subject" of the book is Lou's growth from retiring recluse to more confident woman; although the medium of transformation is through sexual awakening, this is not the sole or even principal end result.
Finally, a word must be added about Engel's wonderful writing. Her characters, settings, and descriptions are lively, strongly visual, and at times amusing. Take, for example, her musings on historical Canadians: "The Canadian tradition was, she had found, on the whole, genteel. Any evidence that an ancestor had performed any acts other than working and praying was usually destroyed. Families handily became respectable in retrospect but it was, as [Lou] and the [Institute Director] often mourned, hell on history." More such fine writing awaits the reader of this short but non-complacent novel, which I recommend.
Most recent customer reviews
I enjoyed the references to places and people I recognize. I like to imagine we can have loving (not sexual) relationships with animals. Read morePublished 18 months ago by snowyowl