Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shelf Life [adult]

The Bear by Claire Cameron
@SPL FIC Camer

Imagine an idyllic summer vacation in Algonquin Park; imagine an outdoorsy family on a canoe trip, two active parents with their two very young children. Now imagine that the worst happens: while the children sleep, their parents are attacked by a rogue bear.

Before the bear completes his fatal attack, the father succeeds in placing his two children safely into a secure food hamper, where they uncomfortably wait out the bear until morning. But when they finally emerge, it’s to a world completely changed.

Their mother hangs on long enough to insist that five year old Anna take care of her three year old brother Alex, getting them both into the canoe and away from the campsite. Anna does her best, making it across the lake despite shoving off without a paddle. Over the next few days, the two children struggle to survive until somebody, anybody, comes searching for the missing campers.

The story is narrated by Anna, filtered through her five-year-old understanding. It makes the horror of the situation more evident, as she describes things that we as readers understand much more clearly than she does. (full disclosure: I did skip a page or two of description – I’m a queasy reader…)

Cameron succeeds with this approach; Anna’s voice is believable and she behaves like a child would. That said, she is also the only character who acts upon the story for most of the narrative, with no other speaking characters in sight. Because of this, much of the book is made up of Anna’s memories and flashbacks to her regular life in Toronto. When Anna and Alex are rescued and returned to their grandfather’s care, Anna is suddenly allowed simply to be a child again, and it is in these last pages of the book that the emotion really kicks in.

The Bear is a powerfully written, emotionally hard-hitting novel that becomes compulsive reading. Just long-listed for the Baileys Prize in the UK, this is a very Canadian novel that everyone will be talking about. Recommended for readers who enjoy strong Canadian settings and unusual narrators. 

This review was published in the Stratford Gazette on March 20. Written by Melanie Kindrachuk, Librarian.

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