The basics: Based on the true story of a couple killed by a bear at a Canadian campsite in 1991, Claire Cameron re-imagines the story to include two young children camping with the children.
My thoughts: I've never been camping, and I have no real desire to ever go. As I read this gripping novel, I asked my husband, "are there really people who take a five-year-old and an almost-three-year-old camping?" It sounds excruciating to me, but I was fascinated by the characters and story. Cameron smartly opens with a descriptive author's note identifying the real-life inspiration for this novel. The novel reads so real, I likely would have been researching its origins as I read if I didn't already know.
Anna, the five-year-old daughter, narrates this story. Traditionally, child narrators are hit or miss for me. Aside from Room (my review), one of all-time favorite novels, I too often find them distracting or unnecessary. Perhaps there's a magic for me as a reader with a very young narrator. Or perhaps there's magic in a child narrator telling a story no one else is around to tell. Or perhaps its as simple as having a child narrator sound like an actual child rather than also including adult observations. As a writer, I imagine it takes incredible restraint to truly tell a story through the eyes and words of a child, but Cameron does it well.
As much as I enjoyed this novel as I read it, I guessed it might be one I enjoyed while I read because of its fast pace and compelling narrative but might not stick with me. Admittedly, I am more partial to an epilogue than the average reader, and this novel's epilogue took the novel to the next level for me.
The verdict: The Bear is a captivating and haunting novel of a very dark subject. I raced through it in less than a day and haven't stopped thinking about it since I turned the last page. I would not be disappointed to see it on the Baileys Prize shortlist.
A note on the cover: I rarely comment on covers, and this one certainly didn't grab me until I picked up the novel, but it captures the action of the novel beautifully. Looking at it haunts me, although I wish Anna's other hand held her stuffed bear.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 241 pages
Publication date: February 11, 2014
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Bear from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)
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