The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen

The Summer of the Bear is set in 1979 in the Western Isles. A tamed bear has escaped, wanting freedom and the open sea around the coast. The family of a British diplomat, Nicky Fleming has returned to the remote Hebridean island from a posting in Cold War Germany. Nicky has died suddenly and it is unclear whether he committed suicide, was pushed from a building or died accidentally. His young family of his widow and three children are bereft. 

   Part ghost story, part mystery, part coming of age, the story blends together each family member's experience and thoughts on Nicky's death, with the progress of the wild bear as he evades capture. I found each of the characters to be well drawn and was particularly fascinated with Jamie, the youngest. Dismissed as strange and unable to process language as others do, he has, in fact, a brilliant mind, like his father. Convinced that his father will return to him, as he had promised, he never loses faith. Unable to understand the nuances of speech and with the innocence of childhood, he cannot read between the lines when told that his father is 'lost' to them and takes this literally.

    The stories of the siblings and their mother are often told in flashback and interspersed with the comings and goings of the bear. Bella Pollen weaves together the different strands of the book into a very satisfactory whole. The history and folklore of the setting is always there. Retreating there from the life she lived with Nicky as a diplomat's wife, she hopes to escape back to the simplicity of life there. As the mystery around her husband's death begins to unravel, she learns that life in the Hebrides is not as safe and simple as she thought. 

  This is a story about coming to terms with grief and sudden loss. Some retreat into silence like Letty, the mother. Others try to find out the truth, like Georgie, the oldest who feels guilt.  The middle child, Alba, lets her anger fly out to all around her. Jamie never loses his belief that his father will return. Bella Pollen writes in detail and takes the pace slowly. I enjoyed this and loved finding out in the epilogue that two aspects of the story were based on actual occurrences, including the escaped bear who indeed spent a summer wandering around the Outer Hebrides coast line, patiently waiting to be found. 

In short: part magical realism, part spy mystery, poignant but uplifting.
 



     

Comments

Popular Posts