Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Setting Free the Bears” as Want to Read:
Setting Free the Bears
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Setting Free the Bears

by
3.25 of 5 stars 3.25  ·  rating details  ·  7,036 ratings  ·  193 reviews
It is 1967 and two Viennese university students want to liberate the Vienna Zoo, as was done after World War II. But their good intentions have both comic and gruesome consequences, in this first novel written by a twenty-five year old John Irving, already a master storyteller.


From the Paperback edition.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published June 23rd 1997 by Ballantine Books (first published 1968)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Setting Free the Bears, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Setting Free the Bears

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John IrvingThe World According to Garp by John IrvingThe Cider House Rules by John IrvingA Widow for One Year by John IrvingThe Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
Best of John Irving
11th out of 16 books — 263 voters
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. DickCancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn2001 by Arthur C. ClarkeThe High King by Lloyd AlexanderA Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
Best Books of 1968
22nd out of 92 books — 31 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Richard
Like many people, I have read and enjoyed some of John Irving's novels. My particular favourites were: A Prayer for Owen Meany, The World According to Garp and A Son Of The Circus.

Perhaps not as well known is his debut novel, Setting Free the Bears.

Disaffected student Hannes Graff hooks up with free-wheeling motorcycle enthusiast Siegfried (Siggy) Javotnik and they embark on a picaresque jaunt across Austria, encountering many odd individuals, both human and otherwise, along the way. Javotnik h
...more
Noce
Autocertificazione di sana e robusta costituzione letteraria.

Salve a tutti.

Sono “Libertà per gli orsi”. Sì, il libro di Irving, proprio quello, sono io.

Sono approdato in casa di questa tipa con la testa un po’ per aria, che in Internet pretende di farsi chiamare Noce Moscata, quando io l’avrei chiamata invece Prezzemolo, data la continuità con cui me la trovo tra i piedi e la costanza con cui ha preteso negli ultimi giorni di essere accompagnata dappertutto: dal dentista, in una stanzetta d’atte
...more
Adam
The perversion and absurdity of this story could only possibly mean one thing. That is is an Irving tale.

'Setting Free the Bears' was entertaining for exactly the same reasons that I have enjoyed everything I have ever read by Irving since first picking up Owen Meany in highschool (middleschool?).

The long, rather drawn out tale of Siggy's 'pre-history' as found in his notebook is, well, rather long and drawn out. Though it is tough to get through, this point is acknowledged by the author as part
...more
Jim Ruiz
John Irving is my favorite author. This may be surprising to some because I am not what I consider the L.L. Bean, preppy type, in my opinion anyway. I decided to read his first book after giving up on his last one. I decided why not start at the very beginning and start over again.
John Irving has some reoccurring themes in his books, bears, accidents, strange sexual behavior. There is a good illustrative graph if you Wiki John Irving. This book is no exception except for one theme, which is MOT
...more
Jim
It's been more than 20 years since I first read this book and I'm happy I did the re-read.

This is John Irving's debut novel, and right from the start it's clear he is a major talent. His inventiveness, his ability to engage the reader, and his ability to bring the reader into the characters' world is amazing.

Hannes and Siggy start out on a late-60's motorcycle road trip, leaving Vienna behind, but somewhat obsessed about the plight of the animals in the Vienna Zoo. After a few misadventures, Sig
...more
Caleb
I quit on this book. The first hundred pages, which involve an adventure through Austria by two young lads on a motorcycle is enjoyable, if a little vapid. The remaining 250 pages, which changes dramatically in tone and format, is excerpts from a diary of one of those two guys and is painfully dull to read. I struggled through 100+ pages of this, wanting to get back to the narrative but it didn't come and so I quit. There are too many good books around to waste your time on something as unremark ...more
Carmen Daza Márquez
Esta fue la primera novela que escribió y publicó John Irving y también sin duda uno de sus peores libros. Pero a diferencia de sus libros malos de solemnidad como La cuarta mano, Libertad para los osos peca sobre todo del exceso y la falta de mesura que caracterizará a su producción posterior pero que en este libro el autor aún no es capaz de controlar y convertir en materia literaria, de manera que termina ahogando toda la trama narrativa.

El tema de la excentricidad personal como única forma d
...more
Christopher
For me the form of this novel is more interesting than the content; short scenes, almost vignettes with names like “Fine Tuning” and “The Beast Beneath Me” that are self-referential and also used as direct lines in earlier and later passages. Woven together. Brief (bad) poems appear, and also little half-truth phrases such as:

“Good habits are worth being fanatical about.”

The middle of book is interleafed notebooks of Siggy, one being “Highly Selective Autobiography” and other being “Zoo Watch”.
...more
Glen Engel-Cox
The bears of the title are in the Heitzinger Zoo in Vienna, which is why I read this first novel of John Irving's. Giving a choice of his novels to begin with, I probably would have selected The World According to Garp or A Prayer for Owen Meany. But in preparation for our trip to Austria, this novel popped up as having a tenuous tie, and due to the fact that we were not finding much to go on, tenuous was better than nothing.

If you take the middle section, called ''The Notebook," and remove the
...more
Pam
I love John Irving. I'm catching up on his earlier books (before Garth) and I have to say that I wasn't disappointed with this one, his debut novel. The story line was engaging, and in typical Irving style, his characters come alive, becoming real -- if eccentric -- people. It was a compelling read, two university students setting out on a motorcycle with no plans in front of them. ("No plans" is a central theme of the book. With no plans, where does our life end up? In strange & unexpected ...more
Luke
I first read this book when I was about 14. It seemed amazing back then, as it was an excursion into history and kinda-sorta sex and the road and motorcycles and that whole enthusiastic, Dickens-hipster thing. Yeah, daddy-o.

The problem about reading it with an older eye is that it hasn't aged particularly well. The text is clunky and overcomplex, the characters pretty one-dimensional - Gallen is basically a big-hipped R. Crumb figure with less intrigue - and the whole atmosphere is a little too
...more
Ari
Late Finnish publication of the John Irving's first novel.

I this had been the first Irving I read I would most likely have liked this even more. Now The World according to Garp remains simply the best - and I presume it's just due the fact that it introduced Irving's unique writing to me and left a permanent impression. Of course I was much younger then and more favourable for permanent impressions :)

Anyway also this deserves at least three and a half stars rounded up to four. My worry of this b
...more
Robert Day
Started out as interesting because it's about people and relationships and stuff, then there was some stuff about the war, which was pretty dull for me, then there was more about relationships and stuff that got me interested right up until the end; at which point we learn why the book is titled so.

Ever since I read, and totally enjoyed A Widow for One Year, I've been collecting John Irving books so that I could read them in the same order they were written, one after the other. This one was the
...more
Wendy
I had high hopes for this book because I've loved everything else by John Irving. This book is bad, really bad. It was so bad I couldn't even finish it.
Marjatta
Varmaankin hieno klassikkoteos,mutta enpä ole typerämpää kirjaa lukenut pitkään aikaan.Kyllä meni aika hukkaan,ihan harmittaa.
Esther
Being an Irving Fan and having previously read every single one of his books but this, his first, it was high time to complete my Irving experience.
I am not sure how much I would have become his fan if I had started my Irving experience with this book. The beginning is even longer than what I am used to until you start getting into the characters. The plot is maybe the weirdest and less coherent of them all. I liked none of the characters particularly, which made it sometimes hard for me to keep
...more
C.E.
I have an interesting relationship with this book. Since I first picked it up nearly a quarter-century ago, I've wanted to love it. The problem is, after going gaga for the first 75 pages or so, I failed to finish it on at least three occasions. While happy to report that I've finally finished it, I can't really recommend it with too much enthusiasm. It tries a little too hard to mean something--but ultimately, there's no real reason to care too deeply about the characters.

The novel's first sect
...more
wally
Setting Free the Bears, by John Irving
good read. part I, meet siggy and graff and the beast, a motorcycle. they are in need of perpetual motion, perpetual emotion, living as they do w/o a war. this is the story of "How Hannes Graff was rendered inert."

too, others are rendered inert and then some. a fear of inertia, mayhap

"What worse awareness is there than to know there would have been a better outcome if you’d never done anything at all? That all small mammals would have been better off if you’
...more
Sandy
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Karl Marx S.T.
I don’t remember if I’ve stated in one of my book reviews that John Irving is one of my most favorite writers in the long list of the authors I read. Having established his literary career after the publication of his fourth novel, the phenomenal The World According to Garp in 1978, one starts to get interested in his earlier masterpieces. Setting Free The Bears has this simple but interesting and original premise, to set free the animals in an Austrian zoo. I fondly remember having visited a lo ...more
Scott
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Adrian Buck
Suprisingly good first novel, and unlike many reveiwers I found the middle section - The Notebook - the most satisfying. It's been some time since I last read an Irving novel, but I'm sure that even when I was regularly reading both writers, I never thought of comparing Irving with Thomas Pynchon yet this middle section had elements that reminded me of Gravity's Rainbow: the tinpie plate eagle, the WWII setting, even the technical writing about motorcycle maintenance. This set me thinking about ...more
Adam O'leary
I had never read a John Irving novel before, but I gathered that he was a writer of great repute and I decided where better to start than with his first book. Setting Free the Bears is a quirky and entertaining story with an interesting structure. Written as a series of small scenes that link together into a greater narrative, as told by the hero, Hannes Graff. Graff befriends a fellow oddball, Siegfried Javotnik, and the two go on a road trip and hatch a hair brained scheme to free the animals ...more
Tom
Oct 19, 2013 Tom rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
This was Irving's first novel, written in 1967. Unless you have read several other Irving novels or are comfortable with a modernist style of writing, I wouldn't recommend you start with this novel. In some ways, this novel seems like Irving woke up from a non-sensical dream and then spends the whole day trying to describe what happened in his strange dream. It's somewhat the story of two young men of college age who set off on a motorcycle journey across the Austrian countryside when they obser ...more
Sarah
Mein Vater drückte mir dieses Buch in die Hand, als ich meinte, ich müsse jetzt erst einmal etwas eher aufmunterndes lesen. Er meinte, es sei witzig und sehr verrückt.

Sehr verrückt ist dieses Buch auch, nur witzig fand ich es nicht. Skurril ist ein besserer Ausdruck dafür, finde ich. Es geht um Siggi und Hannes Graff, zwei Studenten aus Wien, die sich zusammen ein Motorrad kaufen und aus der Großstadt flüchten, vor ihrem nicht sonderlich erfolgreichem Studium flüchten. In den eher ländlichen Geg
...more
Gemski
I'm gutted! I love John Irving. He is in my top three authors, undoubtably. So,I was excited about reading this, his first novel. However, after plodding away at it for weeks with some determination, I've had to give up on it, and I NEVER abandon books! I don't know if I'm just not in the right frame of mind or if I've not set aside enough long sessions to sit and absorb myself in this book, but I just can't get on with it! To be honest, I can't quite figure out what is going on half the time! I ...more
Remi
Jun 30, 2008 Remi rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Irving fans, WW11 interests
Shelves: reviews-by-remi
Finally just finished it.

This is Irving's first novel and so as a first novel goes, its slow and maybe shooting a bit to high for great things in the beginning....but the middle section is really where the story and Irving's imagination shines....its magnificent and funny and sad in all the ways I expect from his writing. It wiped away my disappointment in the first third and made me curious about how the book will end.

Its basically about two guys in post WW11 Austria who flunked out of univers
...more
Andy Norris
Well, yes, this is his first novel. And it's not Owen Meany. But it is a good story.

The typical Irving character development isn't so worked out here as it is in later works, and his prose is somewhat flavored in a way that kind of stumbles over itself, but I could definitely tell that this was an Irving work.

Irving uses the device of a work within a work to frame a story that spans three decades and many characters and a few of the sides navigating World War II. The story-within-a-story will b
...more
Sarah Fisher
Horribly flawed, tough to get through, but a very rewarding ending. You can definitely see when John Irving's style comes from although its not perfected yet. He also experiments with different forms, that being his ultimate downfall. The novel loses steam in the middle when he goes back in time in a diary setting. Some of it is insightful, some is just unneccessary to the plot.

However, Irving's strengths are still the same. He creates wonderful characters and brings them to life. The other reas
...more
Beth
I didn't like this story as much as I liked A Prayer for Owen Meany. It seemed like an effort to paste together two stories, one set in the book's present and one in the past, and neither one worked well for me. Irving's prose is still a pleasure to read, though.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Impossible Vacation
  • Weerborstels
  • Gifts
  • Something Nasty in the Woodshed
  • It Happened in Boston?
  • Fima
  • Myra Breckinridge
  • Weep Not, Child
  • Emperor of the Air
  • Personality
  • Collected Poems
  • A Man and Two Women: Stories
  • Celestial Navigation
  • Delusions of Grandma
  • The Deposition of Father McGreevy
  • Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine
  • A Soldier's Legacy
  • Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose
3075
John Irving published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968. The World According to Garp, which won the National Book Award in 1980, was John Irving’s fourth novel and his first international bestseller; it also became a George Roy Hill film. Tony Richardson wrote and directed the adaptation for the screen of The Hotel New Hampshire (1984). Irving’s novels are now translated into thirty ...more
More about John Irving...
A Prayer for Owen Meany The World According to Garp The Cider House Rules The Hotel New Hampshire A Widow for One Year

Share This Book

“Isn't it amazing? The Americans have so many good afterthoughts!” 2 likes
“What worse awareness is there than to know there would have been a better outcome if you'd never done anything at all?” 2 likes
More quotes…