Reading The Bear reminded me of Room by Emma Donoghue, as both are narrated by a five year old child. In Room, Jack has no sense of the outside world, or even that it exists. Everything is seen through the confines of the room in which he has been incarcerated since his birth. No windows, no doors – nothing that will give him a sense of a larger world. In comparison, in The Bear, Anna’s experience is filtered through the outside world, one which is more menacing and dangerous than a child can imagine.
Anna and her younger brother Stick, as he is known, are camping in Algonquin Park with their parents. A rogue bear attacks them, the parents are killed and the two children are left to fend for themselves. Anna refers to the bear as the black dog and doesn’t appear to understand what has happened to her parents. She only knows that the black dog means danger and she must look after her brother at all costs. Eventually they are rescued after some harrowing experiences, but everything is seen through her eyes, so it is hard to imagine the long lasting effects of her ordeal.
For the most part I enjoyed this book but by the end I was tired of seeing events through the perspective of a five year old. Many run on sentences and jumbled thoughts. Perhaps that is the way five year olds view the world – it’s been awhile since I was that age so I found it tiresome after awhile.
I was very happy with the epilogue and the realization that Anna came to, that her mother had been able to see her children get into the canoe and away from the danger of the bear.
I have my reservations about the book but I do think a joint conversation between Emma Donoghue and Claire Cameron would be interesting in terms of how they found the voices of their narrators and whether they considered this successful.
Reviewed by Hilary Munro