Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Bear by Marian Engel

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. 

(back cover)
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.

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