What an intriguing book. Even though Bear by Marian Engel was first published in 1976, I hadn't read it until just now with its recent re-publication. The northern wilderness setting, the old house, the old books, the solitude are all quite sublime. So engrossed was I that I curled up and read it in one sitting. I had heard about the controversy over the rather explicit portrayal of Lou's relationship with a bear so was ready with an open mind and sense of adventure. It is indeed a strange and slightly surreal aspect of the story that might turn some readers off, but given the overall dream-like quality of the setting and Lou's transitional situation I found it all rather captivating and gutsy. Bear is an excellent, boundary-pushing read.
As provocative and powerful now as when it was first published, Marian Engel's most famous - and most controversial - novel tells the unforgettable story of a woman transformed by a primal, erotic relationship.
Lou is a lonely librarian who spends her days in the dusty archives of the Historical Institute. When an unusual field assignment comes her way, she jumps at the chance to travel to a remote island in northern Ontario, where she will spend the summer cataloguing a library that belonged to an eccentric nineteenth-century colonel. Eager to investigate the estate's curious history, she is shocked to discover that the island has one other inhabitant: a bear. Lou's imagination is soon overtaken by the island's past occupants, whose deep fascination with bears gradually becomes her own. Irresistably, Lou is led along a path of emotional and sexual self-awakening, as she explores the limits of her own animal nature. What she discovers will change her life forever.
A lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plot their escape from a nightmarish library. (back cover)
Introducing the latest from Haruki Murakami! I can always count on this author to nudge my reading into different directions. He has time and again pulled me into a surreal and fascinating world with his stories both long, 1Q84, and now his just published short novel, The Strange Library. His writing is well paced and clear making the reader's immersion into the worlds of his characters quite effortless. It's delightful, really. He combines fantastical elements in amongst all sorts of "normality" so that I get swept up into the goings-on before I realize things are getting weird. I enjoyed The Strange Library not only for the imagination but also the insights typical of Murakami about people, relationships, and life in general. As so often happens while reading his books, I find myself copying words, lines and sometimes whole paragraphs because they express a truth or sentiment so perfectly.
I sat down on my bed and buried my head in my hands. Why did something like this have to happen to me? All I did was go to the library to borrow some books. (Chap. 10, The Strange Library)
The old man came to check on me that evening. He was delighted to find me lost in my book. Seeing how happy he was made me feel a little happier. No matter what the situation may be, I still take pleasure in witnessing the joy of others. (Ch. 18, The Strange Library)
So you'd best forget those shoes. Shoes you can replace, but you can't replace your brains or your life. (Chap 21, The Strange Library)
Reading a book was a meditative act, but it didn't involve a clearing of the mind. Readers disengaged their attention from the outward flow of passing stimuli in order to engage it more deeply with an inward flow of words, ideas, and emotions. That was - and is - the essence of the unique mental process of deep reading.
What is time? A secret - insubstantial and omnipotent. A prerequisite of the eternal world, a motion intermingled and fused with bodies existing and moving in space. But would there be time, if there were no motion? No motion, if there were no time? What a question! Is time a function of space? Or vice versa? Or are the two identical? An even bigger question! Time is active, by nature it is much like a verb, it both 'ripens' and 'brings forth.' And what does it bring forth? Change! Now is not then, here is not there - for in both cases motion lies in between.
One of the great privileges of having grown up in a middle-class literary English household, but having gone to school in the front lines in Southeast London, was that I became half-street-urchin and half-good-boy at home. I knew that dichotomy was possible.