I randomly stumbled upon this link Bear by Marian Engle and THIS was what made me want to read this book. That IMGUR post made me LOL so hard that I just HAD to find out for myself what all the fuss was about…Hahaha yes, it does contain erotic love scenes between a woman and a bear but that should not be the main reason this book should stand out. Do not expect a romance novel with bestiality but expect a great book with strong undertones of female sexual empowerment and feminism.
Lou, our 27-year-old female protagonist, is an educated big city librarian who has been chosen to catalogue an unconventional nineteenth-century colonel’s library on a remote Canadian island. Lou accepts the job eagerly, wanting a break from her unfulfilling work and personal life. After her arrival on the island, Lou becomes aware of just how remote the island is and also learns a bear shares her backyard (he is chained to a wall in the yard). She is wary and afraid of the bear at the beginning, but learns her way around the bear with the help of Lucy Leroy, one of the indigenous elders. As Lou grows accustomed to her new lifestyle, her relationship with the bear takes on a new turn and becomes both sexual and emotional. As her work draws to a close, she leaves the island spiritually renewed.
This actually was a very difficult book for me to review. It’s an anomaly from my usual book choices and I don’t even know what genre this falls into! At 150 pages or so, it is a shorter length novel with a huge impact. As I finished the book, it left me feeling bittersweet melancholy, as Lou had found the happiness she wanted, but not in the way she might have originally envisioned. After some lengthy mulling, I knew Lou had grown as a person from this forbidden relationship and therefore had become happier, so why shouldn’t I be happy for her?
Women liberating themselves in the 1970s had to face many adversities. Marian Engle demonstrates their own self-pressure, emotional struggles, society’s expectations and battles against a male dominant workforce via Lou. Lou breaks free from the mould and finds happiness and fulfilment from her relationship with the bear. Her own acceptance of her happiness is empowering as she allows herself to feel liberated through her experiences.Lou finally having been touched by love, had found what she had been seeking all this time. Most gratifying is the thought that she finally snubs her nose at the various pressures from society and takes what life offers without apology. Marian Engle’s writing is so well-done that she makes the entire experience seem almost normal.
Reading this in 2017, females all over the world can still relate to Lou from the 1970s. Sure, things have changed over the decades and society is a little less restrictive with women’s sexual freedom, but this brave novel does send a clear message: Dare to be different!