Claire Cameron knows the forest where The Bear is set, and it shows. I could not put this book down, from page one I was hooked.
It is important to say that although the point-of-view of The Bear is a five-year old girl, Anna, the voice is not like Emma Donoghue’s Jack in Room. The two books are completely different in tone, the children are very different. The tension in The Bear comes from the dual vision of the story – Anna’s perspective, seeing but not understanding; and the reader’s imagination filling in the reality of the scene as Anna describes it, worrying about the consequences.
Anna is almost six, her brother Stick is almost three. Anna is pre-occupied with trying to behave as her mother and father have schooled her; despite the horror of the situation, she worries about doing what her mother tells her to do, being polite, remembering that Stick is too young to understand. The threat is always there: when the two children are trapped in Coleman, the family’s metal anti-bear food store, and Anna is wishing her mother would let her have a Barbie, I was worrying about what was outside Coleman.
It is a harrowing tale, and the writing made me catch my breath at times. Anna tries to be the grown-up sister, a babysitter for Stick, to have fun, to make him laugh, to distract him from the horror. “And Stick laughs and laughs like when it’s really funny and he starts to walk around and his head rolls because it is so funny and his eyes are tearing but not tears like he is sad. They look like the same tears but they aren’t when you laugh and they come from a different place, like they drip out from your throat and through your eyes. Tears when you are sad drip up from your heart.”
I learned to see the world through Anna’s eyes. The dirty water they drink from a pool is ‘chocolate milk’. The story is interlaced with Anna’s memories of ‘being four’, of trying to do as her mother has taught her. “Manners!”
She waits for her parents to come, as they always have. “Mummy said to me, ‘Daddy and I will be there.’ I am a good girl and our family is four. I don’t want to wait here because I don’t like it but I am supposed to watch Stick when Mummy is not here. I am not old enough to be a babysitter because that is a girl who has long hair and her jeans go loose around her shoe and nail polish that is pink like a pink popsicle except dark. I want nail polish but Mummy says no and I can’t babysit yet so I just have to watch Stick. I don’t know how long until Mummy and Daddy come.” But the reader knows they can’t come.
I read this in one sitting on holiday.To read Claire’s list of favourite books about bears, as told to We Love This Book, click here.
Read an interview with Claire in the National Post here about how she came face-to-face with a bear while camping in the Canadian wilderness.
Watch the book trailer for The Bear here.
Claire cried most days while writing the first draft of The Bear, she tells Publishers Weekly. Read the PW interview here.
Check out Claire’s website here and read an excerpt from The Bear.
‘The Bear’ by Claire Cameron [published by Harvill Secker]