knig's Reviews > Bear

Bear by Marian Engel
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really liked it
bookshelves: 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?

Lou is Theresa Dunn’s (Looking for Mr Goodbarr)’s doppelganger, except theres no faithful James waiting in the side wings.

Negotiating the treacherous waters of the 1970s emancipation experiment, Lou is a a middle aged, educated, intelligent woman whose life is dissipating in an ennui-nous para-state of extreme loneliness and unfullfilment, whose platitudes of evenness are rippled only by brief sexual encounters which leave her even more hallowed out than before. Why does she do it?

Because she is so alone. The need to touch another human being, really, (not necessarily a man), becomes so intense she succumbs to the Dark Side periodically. Even when she tries her hardest to ‘settle’ (you know, where square pegs needs must be forced into round holes to simulate ‘wholeness’), the men find her too educated, too professional, not domesticated enough.
So Lou ends up on a remote island (Cary) in Northern Ontario where she is meant to catalogue the library of an estate bequeathed to the Institute she works in. Helpless, (literally: this is some massive Canadian outback: its survival of the fittest out there), she soon finds herself exchanging favours for the local Man Friday’s help (in getting her supplies, etc). Which is even more heartbreaking considering she thought he was a decent human being to begin with.

Is it any wonder, that disillusioned with men, unable to understand how she fits in the complicated matrix of male-female relationship paradigm, morbidly despairing and disenchanted with her ‘daily bread’, she first falls in love with the remoteness, purity and innocence of Cary Island, and one brief step later: the bear.

This bear, then, is the only living creature in Lou’s life which gives unconditionally, loves unequivocally, has as its narrative innocence, kindness and truth, and hey: makes no domestic demands.

Clearly, Lou has to go back to Toronto eventually. (But not before she is practically flayed alive in an attempt to copulate). (not that thats important, I just had to squeeze it in though). And whilst there are no promises that her existenz will transform in any meaningful way, at the very least Lou goes back with replenished belief in the validity of life: because, for the first time ever, she has been touched by the redeeming nurture of Love.
Even if it was a bear, and not a Canadian Man who showed her the way.
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Reading Progress

February 9, 2012 – Shelved
March 19, 2012 – Started Reading
March 20, 2012 – Shelved as: 2012
March 20, 2012 – Finished Reading
February 27, 2016 – Shelved as: favourites

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by MJ (new)

MJ Nicholls Kierkegaarde and lesbian BDSM and bear love. Uh, eclectic, for sure.


message 2: by Manny (new)

Manny Just as well that I didn't read this before posting my review of The House at Pooh Corner... quite enough trouble caused as it was!


message 3: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Weird. It sounds weird and sad.


knig @Manny: Your Pooh review went stratospheric: and like the energiser bunny, it seems to take a lickin and keep on tickin' (it was active yesterday after 3 years!). Needless to say, love it. And, no joke, I was toying of posting a picture of a woman with a bear (just to honey it up, you know). So, I'm glad I read YOUR review before I did!)


knig @MJ: Not only that, but now I've developed a taste for women who give birth to kitchen appliances as well, you know toasters and stuff. But thats probably waaay too eclectic for you, right?


knig @Traveller: Its beyond sad. The whole idea of how loneliness turns from a psychological to a physical need: and how touch heals. (but yes, weird its the Bear touch).


message 7: by Manny (new)

Manny Knig-o-lass, I'm glad my experience was useful to you! You definitely made the right decision in not posting that picture :)

I've developed a taste for women who give birth to kitchen appliances as well, you know toasters and stuff. But thats probably waaay too eclectic for you, right?

I'm reminded of the famous scene from Heavy Metal. From memory, the woman's just had sex with the robot and he's proposed to her.

"Look, I dunno", she says doubtfully. "Suppose I came home one day and found you fucking the toaster?"

But the robot carries on smooth-talking her, and after a while she relents.

"Oh, alright! But only if we have a Jewish wedding!"


knig Manny, I haven't seen it: a quick google tells me its set to a background of relentless, well heavy metal. This is possibly the only musical genre I can't tolerate: I will take yodeling, Morris dancing music, lowercase music torture, anything over heavy meatal. I like Japanese anime though (not least because theres no heavy metal).


message 9: by Waldo (new)

Waldo Varjak Wait! Is that a picture of Dabney Coleman in a black berret? YOU had a crush on Dabney Colemen!? I can't bear it.


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