Monday, March 10, 2014

book review: The Bear by Claire Cameron

The backstory: The Bear, Canadian author Claire Cameron's second novel, is on this year's Baileys Prize longlist.

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
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Bear from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Claire Cameron's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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  1. I'll make this comment as one who has already read it ie spoilers possibly.

    I like your comment about how Anna should be holding her stuffed bear on the cover. The moment when she was carrying her brother with her last ounce of strength, and passed over her bear because she didn't have the energy to pick it up was the saddest part for me. At that point, you realized that Anna knew how dire things were, and how few options she had. Five year olds love their stuffies.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!