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3.49  ·  Rating details ·  2,914 ratings  ·  585 reviews
A librarian is called to a remote Canadian island to inventory the estate of a secretive Colonel whose most surprising secret is a bear who keeps the librarian company--shocking company.
Paperback, 128 pages
Published October 1st 2002 by David R. Godine Publisher (first published January 1st 1976)
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Average rating 3.49  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,914 ratings  ·  585 reviews

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Miranda Reads
She f*cked a bear.

She literally f*cked a bear.

No. This isn't some euphemism for a beefy gay man.

She motherf*cking literally f*cked a literal bear.

What. The. Hell.

Okay. So. I'm not a cultured reader. I read mostly YA and...well...that's about it. BUT, I am a reader. A layman reader. So, here is the review from a casual just-for-fun reader:

She f*cked a bear.

For the record: did I pick up this book knowing there will be bear-f*ckery? No.

I picked it because I wanted (for once) to
floating because the comments in this thread: are killing me. ded.

first of all, i want to thank bill thompson, for sending me this book from canada. i also want to thank him specifically for sending me this cover, because it is totally hot and i got to upload it onto myself.

i am now prepared for the customer/patron question: "do y'all have any books where a bear goes down on a lady??" yes. yes i do. but that's pretty reductive, even though the book i
Nov 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Hmmm. . . what happens in Canada stays in Canada, eh?

What is it with you guys up there? Is it the solitude? The aurora borealis? The cold?

If I were to take Margaret Atwood seriously (and I do, oh, I do, I do, I do), y'all are transmuting into amoebas up there, giving birth in lakes to half-formed human/beavers.

And now there's this Lou in my life. Lou, the world's most boring librarian, sent up to a place called “Cary's Island” in Canada, to catalogue a library for her Institute.

In case it's uncl
O, 1976. O, Canada. O, living in the wilderness. O, sex with a bear.

Did I just say that? Lemme just re-read the line above. Yep, there it is. Sex with a bear.

God bless 1976, when a book about a lonely, bookish woman who, sent up to the northern Ontario wilderness for work, has sexy-times with a bear, wins the Governor General's Award. For those who don't know, this is Canada's most prestigious literary prize. It's like winning the Pulitzer, or Man Booker, in my country. Apparently, that year, Be
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this in one of those little free libraries. I knew nothing about it as I started to read it, which was quite a good thing because I would have chucked it back in the bin. “Bear” was completely outside of my comfort zone, but I am glad that I have read it. The writing is beautiful, and it illustrates a specific time in history but still feels contemporary today.

If you want to read this book, going in blind is the best approach. Otherwise, keep reading this review.

Spoilers ahead...

The mos
Feb 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, favourites
Is this a book where a Canadian woman called Lou smears honey on her labia minora and has a black bear lick it off? Yes.

Is this a book where Lou kneads the bear’s testicles and tries to mount the bear’s penis? Yes.

Is this a book where Lou falls in love with a bear? Yes.

Did Marian Engel win the Governor’s General Award for this book? Yes

Is this book about gratuitous bestiality? No.

Is this book about general bestiality, then? No. (Although clearly, ........).

So, what IS this book about, then?

Christina Marie
 photo 7WTInRF_zps890bca7d.png

After stumbling across this on imgur I feel like it's my duty to read this.

For research purposes.

I feel like I'm probably going to regret this decision.
lark benobi
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, canada, bestial-acts
There is something so formal and restrained and lovely and lonely about this novella. Startling things happen, sure, but in such a matter-of-fact way that it hardly seems to be out of the ordinary when a human woman, somewhat late in the novella, begins to find passionate fulfillment in an erotic and increasingly risky relationship with a pet bear.

I'm overcome with delight at how Marian Engel portrayed these scenes. And I'm overcome with gratefulness at the way Engel refuses to anthropomorphize
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I read this book in a day then had to spend two more days in an attempt to understand it. I knew something was up when I, innocent reader, bought a book on the recommendation of a reader friend who is Canadian and knows what is UP about Canadian lit. I read the description, about the mousy librarian and her assignment to a tiny island to catalog an estate that has been donated, and thought it sounded like something I would really love. I noted that it won the Governor General's Literary Prize, w ...more
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary
Marian Engel's Governor General's Award winning novel, BEAR, is a unique little masterpiece.

Unfortunately, this novel seems to have been forgotten.

It opens when Lou, the main character, a librarian, is commissioned to catalog and research the life of an eccentric nineteenth century colonel in the wilds of Ontario. At first, Lou is uncertain she wants to be in such an isolated environment. But once she reaches the remote island house, and begins her cataloging and research, a peace falls upon h
Claire Fuller
Controversial and prize-winning, and a masterpiece. Is what I'm going to say now a spoiler? Maybe. This short novel is about a woman who has sex with a bear. There, it's said. Avoid it, or read it, now you know. But it's so much more than that - although these scenes are handled expertly. It's about nature, a woman working out who she is and what she wants, falling in love (yes), feminism, loneliness, connection. Lou goes to a remote Canadian island to catalogue the library in a house left to th ...more
Betsy Robinson
Bear by Marian Engel

Lou, a cataloguer for a historical institute, is assigned to go live on an island in Northern Ontario where she will record all possessions in the estate of the late Colonel Jocelyn Cary, who has left her house and bear to the institute. Lou is a woman who, we are told, only feels purposeful and grounded by having instructions, but she ends up having sex with the bear, and through that, having unnamed guilt healed by having her back clawed, thereby experiencing a rebirth.

Nate D
May 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: wilderness vacation reading, sort of
Recommended to Nate D by: knig
Wherein a youngish but isolated-in-her-modern-life archivist leaps at a chance to move into a different sort of isolation (cataloguing an estate library on a remote island) and bonds somewhat surreally-yet-unanthropomorphically-realistically with a certain member of the local semi-wildlife. The notes and asides delivered in slips of paper from the past, the setting, the hard deadpan "reality" of the delivery are all handled perfectly. Especially the latter. In another book this would slip into a ...more
Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This poor book! The 1970s sextastic cover promises bear erotica, which has caused many chuckles because it's a an award-winning Canadian book so hahaha those crazy Canucks. In reality, it's a story of a woman finding herself in the wilderness. So if you were here for the sex, leave now.

The summary: A quiet, young librarian gets an assignment to catalogue a collection on a remote island. On the island she finds a tame bear and she begins to question herself about life, relationships and her prev
Aug 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Unconventional sex and sexuality interests me, as a general rule. What interests me most about novels that deal with taboo sex is not the taboo per se, although there is something to be said about reading descriptions of the forbidden that is erotic in and of itself. What I’m chiefly interested in is how taboo sex can answer questions about ourselves, and when we examine depictions of these forbidden encounters, strange intimacies, and abject eroticisms, there are things to be discovered that ca ...more
Jul 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Unlike most of the fiction titles in my bear-bear shelf (at least based on the blurbs), this one does not take the absurdist-magical-sur-realist route. Instead, it admirably goes the route of realism (or what we think of as realism), which is much harder considering the topic. How does a bookish woman end up falling in love and having sexual relations with a bear in any kind of believable fashion? And how do we end up falling for it, not even in a kitschy smirky superior way, but feeling for her ...more
Carolyn Klassen
In Engel’s novel, Lou and Bear’s relationship is not consensual; many of their encounters are sexually abusive, verging on rape. As Margret Grebowicz argues in “When Species Meat: Confronting Bestiality Pornography,” “[h]ow might we begin to distinguish between the sexual agency we anthropomorphically project onto animals (in the production of porn, for instance) and their real sexual agency, the very thing which render them rapeable (at least in human legal terms) in the first place?” Because a ...more
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: somewhere-else, 2018

I have nothing to add to the mountain of words, both adulatory and damning, that have been written about this book, except that perhaps more than with any other book reviewed on this site, I wish that, freedom of speech be damned, I could delete other users' reviews.

For the love of reading, people, it's a novel.
Dec 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: can-con, favourites, 2014
It was the night of the falling stars. She took him to the riverbank. They swam in the still, black water. They did not play. They were serious that night. They swam in circles around each other, very solemnly. Then they went to the shore, and instead of shaking himself on her, he lay beside her and licked the water from her body while she, on her back, let the stars fall, one, two, fourteen, a million, it seemed, falling on her, ready to burn her. Once she reached up to one, it seemed so clo
Robert Wechsler
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada-lit
A true gem of a novella. Engel’s third-person limited narration and simple but elegant prose fit perfectly to this modern take on the fairy tale, complete with a woman, a bear, and a library in an octagonal house on an island in the deep woods of the north (Canada). The running commentary on the books and the notes in the library that the protagonist is archiving is wonderful. This novel has such a wonderful sense of balance, something its protagonist lacks. The narrator and the protagonist make ...more
Apr 13, 2016 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Francesca Marciano
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Astonishingly strange. Not for the faint of heart, surely. I loved her writing, her subtle wit, and I love that she was so crazy to write an erotic tale between a woman and a bear back in 1976! Anyway, don't be fooled by the sensationalism, this is good literature and she won the most prestigious Canadian literary award for it.
Marcus Hobson
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First a big thanks to friends on Goodreads who have recently reviewed this book - Lark & Robin and others - without whom I would probably never have noticed this little masterpiece.
Thanks all, that is what Goodreads is all about.

So, what a beautiful story.
There are so many things to love about this story. For booklovers, even the premise that somewhere in a wilderness setting there is a beautiful old house full of antiques and books waiting to be discovered, or even catalogued, held and read an
Jul 31, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

I read this book because there was an article about it floating around Facebook. I believe the actual title of that article was something like 'What the actual fuck, Canada?' because this is a book wherein a woman gets licked by a bear. Bear sex. And not of the hairy dude variety. Bear sex with an actual real bear. And what's more, it's an award-winning book with bear sex in it.

But it's not a book about bear sex.

The writing is beautiful. The sensory detail is phenomenal. There's a scene whe
Lisa Dunckley
Jan 04, 2017 rated it did not like it
This may not be a popular opinion, but I...did not like this book. It was a big disappointment.

It was recommended on a list of award winning books to read yet managed to be both boring and bizarre. I can see that the writer is talented—the writing is elegant and she does a fine job of creating sentences that aptly describe without excess verbage, but the story itself is boring, and the main character Lou is not likeable.

The choices Lou made didn't seem to have enough foundation, so I found mys
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
There's no point in avoiding the most notorious part of this book - yes, our protagonist f**ks a bear. But the book is not a bodice ripper, it's not titillating, and the bear is not anthropomorphized. Instead, it's the story of a woman who cherishes her solitude (maybe), enjoys her work as an archivist, and has the rare opportunity to catalog a library in a historic house in an isolated spot that comes complete with bear. The book has a wonderful sense of place, and the language feels clean, cle ...more
Natasha Penney
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-bingo
What a wonderful read! I don't know that I would have picked it up without a book group's challenge to read a "book outside my comfort zone", but a protagonist engaging in bestiality certainly fit the description. But it ended up being so much more than shocking and shallow, which was almost what I was expecting. It's a strong feminist story about self-realization and empowerment, and the boundaries of personal power. It's an absorbing story and I'm happy to have given it a chance.
Jeffrey Luscombe
A brilliant book and one of my favourites. When I was doing my MA at the University of Toronto, I went to McMaster University in Hamilton (who hold's Engel's personal letters) to do some research on her papers. Someone really should do a PhD on her correspondence.
Doug H
Sep 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this novel in my late teens (a few years after it was published) and remember being strongly impressed by it. Strangely enough, I remember its beautiful interior-looking writing balanced with detailed descriptions of nature (especially swarms of black flies) more than anything very graphic or gratuitous about the sex scenes (even as strange as they are). I generally dislike detailed sex scenes in novels so, now, many years later, I’m wondering if I’ve shut those scenes from my memory or i ...more
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bingo-2017
This book is brilliant. A look at a single woman in a patriarchal, misogynistic society, with a lagging career, a dysfunctional relationship with a married man, and a chance to break free and connect with herself through nature. This book is intense and sometimes uncomfortable. The writing is brilliant. Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence wrote positive reviews on the back cover. These two women have not steered me wrong yet. This book was no exception.
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Write Reads Podcast: Write Reads #31 Bear with Alexis Kienlen 1 8 Sep 26, 2015 09:13AM  

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Canadian novelist, short-story and children's fiction writer, Marian Engel was a passionate activist for the national and international writer’s cause.

She was the first chair of the Writer’s Union of Canada (1973–74) and helped found the Public Lending Right Commission. From 1975-1977, she served on the City of Toronto Book Award Committee (an award she won in 1981 for Lunatic Villas) and the Can

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“So this was her kingdom: an octagonal house, a roomful of books, and a bear.” 7 likes
“She makes her little house to shine, she thought.” 3 likes
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