A Year of Books

10. Bear (Marian Engel)

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“So this was her kingdom:  an octagonal house, a roomful of books, and a bear.”

As I work towards reading all the books on the CBC’s 100 Books That Make You Proud to be Canadian list  I have to admit that Bear leaves me at a bit of a loss for words.  It is certainly a book that I will not forget, a book with writing that has an easy flow and a book that is shocking. Bear won the prestigious Governor General’s Award and is on the CBC’s 10 Controversial Canadian Books You Need to Read List.

The main character, Lou, is a lonely librarian that works at the Historical Institute in Toronto.  The Pennarth Estate (on the remote Carey Island in Northern Ontario) had been bequeathed by Colonel Jocelyn Cary to the Institute despite the unsuccessful lawsuit of her relatives.  Lou looked forward to a change of pace but when she arrived, discovered the strength needed to live a solitary life and her own latent sexuality.  The object of her desire is the old bear!

I can’t imagine that this book would not have caused a huge uproar in 1976.  This novel is both short and shocking.  According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, Marian Engel grew up in Southern Ontario, living in Galt, Sarnia and Hamilton.  She attended McMaster University for her undergraduate degree and McGill for her Masters.  She published 12 books during her life and there have been 4 publications posthumously featuring her correspondence.

Bear is not a book that I would recommend to others but a book that certainly would stir up controversy and conversation.  It really is a bizarre relationship and one can’t help but wonder what the author would be thinking to create such fiction.  I would be curious to understand the criteria for the CBC’s 100 Books that Make You Proud to be Canadian as this choice has left me scratching my head and feeling quite creepy.

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